Safety issues are more important to trucking fleets than ever, affecting nearly every aspect of the business, from federal safety compliance scores and the driver shortage to insurance costs and the risk of a “nuclear verdict.”
That’s why, new to the Fact Book this year, we launched what we intend to be an annual fleet safety survey conducted by Heavy Duty Trucking and sister media brand Work Truck.
Not surprisingly, the results showed that the smallest fleets approach safety quite differently from the largest fleets. For instance, when asked about fleet safety strategies, fleets with fewer than 10 vehicles used these strategies considerably less than respondents as a whole. Larger fleets were more likely to cite driver training, advanced safety technologies, and driver safety awards/recognition than respondents as a whole.
Only about half of respondents said they emphasize a culture of safety throughout the company as a safety strategy, and that was much more common among fleets of 250 or more vehicles at 78%. Of the smallest fleets, only 28% checked off the safety culture option.
2020, of course, was anything but a typical year for fleets, and safety issues were no exception.
Lytx reports that compared to 2019, data from its video-based safety and analytics system indicated that truck fleet drivers had an increased number of posted speed violations, incomplete stops at stop signs, and failures to stop at stop signs. Areas that improved from the previous year included late response, following distance, red lights, unsafe lane changes, and drowsy driving.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration ramped up its use of offsite audits during the pandemic, and that trend is expected to continue. Not only do they consume fewer resources, but they also allow the FMCSA to expand its enforcement reach — a goal the agency has been striving to achieve for years.
2020 also was the first year the electronic logging device mandate was fully in effect, and we saw the FMCSA change hours-of-service rules to make them more flexible. How are those playing out in the violation statistics?
“If you look at substantive hours of service violations (ie, driving beyond the allowable hours), we actually have seen a pretty decent decline in those violations since the ELD mandate, as compared with false log violations, which have risen — which is what you would expect,” says Brandon Wiseman, owner and president of Trucksafe Consulting. In 2020, he said, 14-hour violations dropped to 9,700 from 36,600 in 2017 and 30-minute rest break violations dropped from 51,000 to 10,000.
Last year was the first year for the FMCSA’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse, which took effect Jan. 6. As of June 1 this year, there had been more than 80,420 test results reported to the clearinghouse, with drug tests accounting for 82% of total violations reported. Marijuana was by far the most common drug detected.
However, that clearinghouse does not include hair testing, which proponents say identifies many more drug users than urine-testing. Fleets that use hair testing last year found drivers testing positive for marijuana less than for cocaine and opioids.
“Urine tests miss cocaine and opioid use because the timeframe for detection is small, compared to marijuana,” explains Lane Kidd, spokesman for the Trucking Alliance, which advocates for hair testing and other safety measures. “Hair testing catches the lifestyle users, who cannot refrain a few days before testing and avoid getting caught. If hair testing failures were accepted into the clearinghouse, the results would show cocaine and opioids leading in the drug test results and the seriousness of the drug abuse problem we have among too many truck drivers.”