By Clarissa Kell-Holland, staff writer
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is urging the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to act fast and develop recommendations about critical cab crashworthiness standards that could possibly save truck drivers’ lives.
OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer sent a letter to NHTSA Administrator David L. Strickland in late November 2012, pressing the agency to put truckers’ safety at the forefront as outlined in the new highway bill – Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, or Map 21 – which took effect this past year.
MAP-21 included a provision requiring comprehensive analysis on the need for developing crashworthiness standards no later than 18 months after the highway bill’s passage, which was in July.
“As you are aware, currently there are limited standards dictating the construction of tractor/truck cabs, leaving professional truck drivers at risk for injury or death, even in the lowest of impact crashes, as truck cabs become lighter and lighter while efforts to increase truck weight grow more concerted,” Spencer wrote in his letter.
Sarah VanWasshnova has been an outspoken advocate for tougher safety standards for commercial vehicles after her husband, Carl VanWasshnova, an OOIDA member from Port Orange, FL, was killed in a low-speed crash when his day cab collapsed around him. Since his death in 2009, she has traveled to Washington, DC, to meet with lawmakers and plans to write NHTSA again about the importance of making cab crashworthiness a national safety priority.
Currently, NHTSA has no regulations for occupant protection, rear impact, head restraints and roof crush resistance for Class 7 and 8 trucks. The regulations are just for cars and light trucks.
“While accident prevention is important, so is the life of a driver carrying the load,” Spencer wrote in his letter.
Spencer urged NHTSA to consider improved cab structure to provide the occupant with sufficient survival space and occupant restraints, which include seat belts and air bags. He also recommended improving the strength of windshields and doors to ensure occupant retention and more forgiving interior surfaces, including padded interior and energy-absorbing steer columns as some of the safety measures NHTSA should review.
“As a result of the lack of even the most basic standards, common sense and inexpensive safety enhancements, such as air bags, have been overlooked for decades, while supposed safety technologies for the vehicle have been prioritized,” Spencer told the agency.
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, approximately 700 truck drivers have died annually the past 10 years in single or multi-vehicle crashes. As for the 63 percent of fatal injuries that occur in truck rollover crashes, Spencer argues that this statistic could be lowered by as much as 23 percent annually if “cab structural integrity is sufficiently improved to prevent crushing in the event of a rollover.”
“When a cab virtually disintegrated upon impact, a driver’s life is unfairly at risk,” Spencer wrote. “Frankly, we owe the hard-working men and women behind the wheel a great deal more protection, and it is our hope that NHTSA will not squander this opportunity.” LL