Perhaps there isn't a stranger sight than someone bragging about mediocrity. That's what an author in Land Line Magazine did recently, when discussing the results of International Roadcheck 2021.
For those unfamiliar with International Roadcheck, it's a coordinated enforcement effort between officials in the United States, Mexico, and Canada to ensure that the commercial trucks and their drivers are fit to be on the road. This year's results show an impressive 83.5% of vehicles had no serious violations. Even if one accepts that 1 truck out of 6 being taken off the road for a safety violation is good news, digging beneath the numbers shows that the results are worse than they appear.
Mexican Commercial Truck Safety: From Menace to Gold Standard in 21 Short Years
I'm old enough to remember in the early 2000's when the trucking industry requested special protections from Congress because the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) granted Mexican truckers full access to the American market. At the time, the industry argued that safety standards were so bad in Mexico that allowing Mexican truckers full access to the United States represented an enormous safety risk.
That's important, because to arrive at the figure that 83.5% of vehicles passed inspections, one has to ignore that 5% of those inspections happened in Mexico. It's curious that while Canadian officials and their American counterparts to a truck off the road 30.7% of the time and 26.4%, respectively, Mexican trucks passed inspections 97.2% of the time.
With my tongue squarely planted in my cheek, I heartily wish that trucking companies in the United States and Canada weren't 10 times as dangerous as their Mexican counterparts.
The Numbers Are Worse Than the Trucking Industry Wants to Admit
When we strip out the curious numbers from Mexico, trucks didn't pass inspection 83.5% percent of the time; in the United States the pass rate fell to 74.6%. It's been a few years since I attended school, but 74.6% was a low 'C' back then. I don't recall ever meeting a person who bragged about a low 'C', until now.
Instead of the rosier version, where 1 in 6 trucks had a serious issue, the reality is that 1 in 4 commercial trucks had an issue so severe that regulators pulled the truck or driver off the road. To put those numbers in perspective, even during peak drunk driving hours, fewer than 1 in 4 drivers on the road are drunk drivers.
This isn't just an example of authorities removing drivers for ticky-tack violations. The top three maintenance issues were braking issues, tire problems, and missing lights. 12.3% of the trucks given out-of-service violations had improperly secured cargo. More than half of the drivers found to have violations were either over their allotted hours of service or had falsified logs.
These aren't minor issues, but serious safety concerns.
A Serious Issue with 25% of Inspected Trucks Is Nothing to Brag About
I don't bring any of this up to pick on drivers. I understand that for many drivers, their company provides the truck, not the driver. If their employer doesn't want to maintain the vehicle, it not only puts the public at risk, but their own employees. Working at a truck accident injury law firm, I'm confident that places like mine are at the bottom of most truckers' Christmas card list, but I get the impression that many trucking companies are just as despised within the industry.
In fairness to the industry, it's a fact that commercial drivers do not cause most truck accidents. However, when people within an industry see 25% of the vehicles on the road shouldn't be, and think that's doing a good job, I can't help but wonder if they're not prisoners to low expectations.
The vast majority of incidents where a commercial driver is to blame for a crash are crashes that result due to brake failure, driver fatigue, or improper truck lighting. Rather than bragging about numbers that are mediocre at best, it should be a wake-up call to the responsible players in the industry when out-of-service violations match up so neatly with common causes of commercial truck accidents.
Don't most people who get a 'C' at least ask themselves what they can do to bring it up to an 'A?'