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Remarks by Secretary Slater to the American Trucking Association Board of Directors

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk


Remarks by Secretary Slater to the American Trucking Association Board of Directors

Rodney E. Slater, United States Secretary of Transportation
June 18, 1999

JUNE 18, 1999

I am happy to be here this morning with the leaders of an industry that is truly an essential part of our American economy for the new century and the new millennium.

You have very capable and talented leaders with the American Trucking Associations -- your President, Walter McCormick and your Chairman John Wren from Minnesota.

The trucking industry is growing -- because of the unprecedented 97 months of continuous economic expansion under the strong leadership of President Clinton and Vice President Gore. Nearly 19 million jobs have been created since 1993, and nearly 1 million jobs have been created in the first 5 months of this year alone.

The U.S. economy today also has the lowest unemployment since 1957. And last year, for the first time in three decades, the budget?s red ink turned black with a $70 billion surplus.

The welfare rolls are the lowest they've been as a percentage of our population in 29 years. Home ownership is the highest in history, and in the last six years, 7 million Americans have bought new homes and another 18 million have refinanced them at lower interest rates.

The visionary and vigilant Department of Transportation is committed to working with the growing trucking industry for the new century and the new millennium.

Safety is President Clinton?s top transportation priority and the Department of Transportation is committed to saving lives. It remains our north star by which we will be guided. On President Clinton?s watch, highway fatality and drunk driving fatality rates have reached record low levels; seat belt use is at an all time high of over 70 percent -- up from under 50 percent in 1990. Highway-rail crossing deaths are at a record low level, down 58 percent from 1988.

Impressive as these accomplishments are, the President has said " This is not a time to rest, but a time to build." We, at DOT, have not rested.

We will issue new rules to shut down unfit carriers. In appropriate cases, we have significantly increased fines for safety violations and limited negotiated settlements or "wrist-slaps."

We have also doubled the number of compliance reviews each month for safety investigators -- an annual increase per inspector from 24 to 48. We have issued new rules on truck visibility.

To keep up our momentum, we have requested and the President has proposed a transportation budget that includes a record $3.5 billion for transportation safety. Beyond that, we have requested an additional $56 million for motor carrier safety to hire more inspectors, and to focus on border enforcement.

I have no doubt that every single person here is committed to operating as safely as possible with drivers who are well-trained and equipment that is well-maintained. ATA has been out front in support of a broad range of safety issues -- the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program, the Commercial Driver?s License program, TEA-21 safety initiatives, on outreach programs such as Share the Road and No Zone and the recently renewed Intelligent Transportation System Incident Management Program ? and I applaud you for that.

But, it is time for all of us to do more. Last year, the deaths resulting from crashes involving commercial motor vehicles dropped by almost 100, which is great news because almost 100 lives were saved. But that still means that more than 5,300 people were killed in truck and bus crashes last year. That number is unacceptable to President Clinton -- and it is unacceptable to me.

Last month, Federal Highway Administrator Ken Wykle and I proposed a Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Action Plan with the ambitious goal of reducing commercial motor vehicle-related deaths by half in the next 10 years. Today, I ask you to join with me to make that goal a reality.

In the coming weeks, Assistant Secretary Gene Conti will coordinate and focus resources from across the Department on ways we can save lives. As we are doing here today, from now until Labor Day, we will engage the industry, labor, safety advocates and others in frank discussions about the long-range strategy that will be needed to achieve our aggressive goal.

We must redouble our shared commitment to get the safety message to every company that operates a truck and every driver who sits behind the wheel. And if we can?t get the safety message through to them, we have to get them off the road.

Reaching our goal will require making tough decisions. We are prepared to consider and make those decisions. I challenge you to join with us in a cooperative effort, so that we can reach our goal. The trucking industry -- from top to bottom -- must work with us to develop our strategy and then to implement it. I believe you are up to that challenge.

If we are to reduce deaths by half -- and we will -- we must not be restricted by the existing, pre-conceived limits on what we can do. To reach our goal, we must develop new ideas and move in new directions.

We are prepared to start by examining these areas:

  • Recorder technologies to control speeding by large trucks.
  • Requirements that new carriers demonstrate knowledge of existing safety regulations.
  • Aggressive and accountable goals for states to reduce truck-related fatalities.
  • Stiffer requirements on CDL applicants for traffic and drug and alcohol related violations.
  • How pay affects drivers? decisions to drive too many hours or to drive unsafely.
  • Crashworthiness requirements to reduce fatalities in collisions between trucks and cars.

    We all share the responsibility for safety -- the Department of Transportation, the American Trucking Associations and your state organizations and member companies, and each individual driver of all vehicles on the road.

    It is the trucking industry?s responsibility to ensure log books are accurate. ATA must help us resolve this issue just as DOT updates the hours-of-service rules to fit the needs of the human body and a 21st century transportation system.

    We are developing the first new hours-of-service regulation in more than 60 years. We will work with everyone involved -- industry, labor and safety groups -- to get this done.

    The safe companies and the safe drivers -- who are the backbone of the industry -- should welcome the opportunity to work with us to identify the bad drivers and the bad companies and get them off the road. The trucking industry can help by supporting the development of a safety management auditing system for all carriers and by developing and using advanced safety technology. You should be innovators and users of the best.

    We believe striving to achieve the ambitious goal we have set for ourselves and our partners, rather than management reorganization, will reduce fatalities and injuries. We will leave the motor carrier safety program activities in FHWA for the present time and diligently monitor and periodically report on our efforts to make improvements. We will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure continued progress in meeting our goal.

    There are some who say we cannot cut deaths from truck and bus crashes in half in 10 years -- that it is too ambitious a goal.

    But I believe we have no choice. Driving a commercial truck or a bus is a privilege, not a right. More than 5,000 deaths from crashes involving trucks and buses every year is simply unacceptable. So, we must make the hard choices as we go through the process. The goal of a 50 percent reduction is achievable if we put our minds to it, if we commit to it.

    Efficiency and profitability in transportation must not come at the cost of safety. We can have a safe transportation system for the 21st century that is efficient and profitable.

    I am committing to work with you to continue our shared commitment to safety. As we build the transportation system of the new century and the new millennium, moving from strength to strength, we must join together to save lives. Safety is a promise we must make together -- and keep together.


    Source:  U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT)

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