As professional truck drivers, vending and OCS route drivers have a responsibility beyond the average motorist to drive defensively. This is simply due to the fact that most fatalities involving trucks are caused not by the truck driver, but by the motorist who may be operating recklessly or inattentively around a truck, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, university studies and other research.
The fact that motorists do not follow safe driving practices as well as professional drivers places the burden on you, the professional. This means you have to exercise caution in situations such as a car cutting in front of you, or an SUV whizzing by you, or a tailgating station wagon, said John Wislocki, information manager with the American Trucking Associations' Safety and Loss Prevention Management Council, located in Alexandria, Va.
Recent study underscores a growing nationwide problem
Wislocki said road conditions may be getting even riskier based on a recent study by the Washington, D.C.-based Governors Highway Safety Association. The GHSA survey of member jurisdictions detailed their efforts to control speeding by motorists. The report comes nearly 10 years after Congress repealed the National Maximum Speed Limit, which had required states to keep speed limits at a maximum of 65 mph in rural areas and 55 mph in urban areas.
According to GHSA Chair Lt. Colonel Jim Champagne, "In addressing the speeding problem, we are where we were 25 years ago with drunk driving: there is a serious problem, but we do not have an effective remedy."
Of the 50 GHSA jurisdictions that responded to the survey, 38 indicated a speed limit increase in their jurisdiction since 1994. Just as troubling is an analysis from the Arlington, Va.-based Insurance Institute for Highway Safety which reports that 31 states have raised speed limits to 70 mph or higher on some portion of their roadways.
Higher speed limits raise fatalities
A 1999 IIHS study found that deaths increased an estimated 15 percent on interstates and freeways in 24 states that raised speed limits after the repeal of the National Maximum Speed Limit.
"We should have experienced a significant decline in speeding-related fatalities given the tremendous gains in safety belt use coupled with the increasingly safe design of vehicles. However, it appears these benefits have been minimized by increasing speeds," Champagne said.
A call for safety education
Given the trends, Champagne indicated it's not surprising that speeding-related fatalities continue to represent a third of overall highway fatalities. "As a country, if we are going to reduce the carnage on our roadways, speeding must be given the same level of attention that has been given to occupant protection and impaired driving," he said.
The problem with speeding is not just the increased speed limits, but also the fact that the public feels comfortable driving above the posted limits, even when road conditions are less than ideal.
Of the 50 GHSA jurisdictions surveyed, 42 indicated there exists a "cushion" of 5 to 10 mph, not only in the minds of the public, but also in enforcement practice.
Homeland security supplants speeding
GHSA's survey found that its jurisdictions believe increased enforcement of speeding-related laws has become very difficult because of uncertainty in highway safety funding and decreased numbers of officers due to retirements, as well as an increased emphasis on homeland security issues.
One remedy to augment diminishing police enforcement is the use of automated enforcement, commonly known as "speed cameras." These systems combine radar or laser-measuring technology and video or photographic identification to automatically detect and record speed limit violations.