The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHSTA) latest annual traffic crash report shows 38,824 lives lost across the U.S. in 2020—the highest number of fatalities since 2007. While the number of crashes and traffic injuries declined overall, fatal crashes increased by 6.8%. Among the alarming statistics: a key finding that speed-related fatalities increased by 17%.
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), in 2019 there were 13.65 fatal large-truck crashes per 1 million people in the U.S.—a 29% increase from 10.6 in 2010. Operation Safe Driver Week, July 10-16, is an awareness and outreach initiative aimed at improving the driving behaviors of passenger and commercial motor vehicle drivers.
The nonprofit Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) sponsors the annual event. “[Commercial driver licensed] drivers, by and large, are great drivers: they’ve had extra training, they drive for a living and so many of them take that very seriously and take pride in accident-free miles, violation- free inspections, great maintenance programs, and so forth,” says CVSA President John Broers, a captain in the South Dakota Highway Patrol and commander of the agency’s Motor Carrier Division. “We want everyone to be safe when they’re traveling in their vehicle—whether that’s a truck driver or a passenger vehicle driver.”
For recyclers, every week is about safety. “While I think safety initiatives such as Operation Safe Driver Week, International Roadcheck, and Brake Safety Week are important in bringing awareness to dangers on the road, they are more of a reminder of the critical day-to-day safety practices that need to be exercised at all times,” says George Steele, transportation safety director at Stow, Ohio-based Reserve Management Group (RMG). The metals and electronics recycling firm operates 80 trucks.
At RMG, safety topics such as speed and space management, distracted driving, defensive driving, and roadside inspection preparedness all are part of drivers’ ongoing monthly training, Steele says. “The reputation we build in the communities we are in, through our safe practices, is vital to the growth of our business,” he says, adding, “I believe having a culture of safety has also led the way for a wonderful driver retention rate, with less than 15% driver turnover.”
Portland, Oregon-based Schnitzer Steel Industries Inc. operates about 500 trucks servicing its metals and auto recycling facilities and steel plants in the U.S., Puerto Rico, and Canada. Fleet Safety Director Melissa Frangiosa—who chairs ISRI’s Fleet Management Subcommittee—conveys five basic standards to drivers:
- Report to work fit for duty.
- Practice defensive driving.
- Perform comprehensive pre- and post-trip vehicle inspections.
- Prioritize proper rest breaks.
- Plan for bad weather.
Frangiosa visits Schnitzer locations for driver meetings to maintain personal connections with the company’s teams responsible for safely hauling recycled metals, end-of-life vehicles, and finished steel products across all parts of the country. “Safety is more than a priority at Schnitzer,” she says. “It’s one of our core values, and by continuously working to improve our programs and policies, we are able to ensure that our teams operate responsibly in our communities and return home safely at the end of each day.”
Piper Titus, chief financial officer and co-owner of Weedsport, N.Y.-based Page Transportation Inc., says her company also has an all-around approach to driver safety. Training, qualification, and monthly safety meetings are augmented using GPS technology and onboard diagnostics (known collectively as telematics) not only to know where each of 350 trucks is at on a map, but to identify coaching and counseling opportunities. “It’s based around hard brakes, hard corners, hard accelerations, collisions, and speeding,” she explains.
Page looks at each driver’s safety record as a green, yellow, or red traffic light. “We don’t point fingers,” Titus says. “We’re not screamers. “If we can’t coach-counselor remediate [problems] we politely and respectfully part ways [with drivers].”
Schnitzer also uses telematics to improve driver performance. “We can go back and pull reports and say, ‘Drivers are more likely to be speeding between 5 and 7 a.m., or between 2 and 4 p.m.’ Then, we can make create tailored homegrown trainings based on real-time data,” Frangiosa explains.
In 2021, police pulled over 28,148 commercial and 17,910 passenger vehicles during Operation Safe Driver Week. Troopers, deputies, and officers handed out 10,486 warnings and 16,863 citations. Speeding, failure to wear seat belts, and failing to obey traffic signals were the top violations commercial drivers committed.
“We’re on the cusp of a lot of new, modern technology to help make us safer, but in the end, it’s still [up to] the driver,” Broers says. “The driver is the most important cog in this wheel. Taking away bad behaviors such as speeding, texting, and [lack of] attention to the task at hand, we’re going to see dramatic decreases in crash rates.”
Law enforcement will track driver interactions during Operation Safe Driver Week and will submit that data to CVSA. The results from this week will be released this fall.
Featured photo courtesy of Storyblocks. Caption: Police will be on roadways this week keeping an eye out for commercial motor vehicle drivers and passenger vehicle drivers who are driving dangerously. Body photo 1 courtesy of Capt. John Broers. Caption: Capt. John Broers of the South Dakota Highway Patrol. Body photo 2 courtesy of George Steele. Caption: George Steele, transportation safety director at Reserve Management Group. Body photo 3 courtesy of Piper Titus. Caption: Piper Titus, CFO and co-owner of Page Transportation.