How One Lobbying Group Stopped Safety Improvements And Put Lives At Risk!
I’ve focused my blog primarily on safety issues related to our workplaces, our roadways and our products. Most of our law firm’s cases involve serious personal injuries that happened at work, on the road, or from a defective product. In a number of past articles, I’ve written about the corporate and insurance lobbyists who work hard to prevent safety solutions.
Side Safety Guards On Big Trucks Save Lives!
With that in mind, today’s post is pretty short. I read a recent article in ProPublica on a safety issue I’ve discussed here several times — Side safety guard rails on big trucks prevent under-ride injuries and deaths. You can read a few of my articles here:
Why have I written so many articles on this issue? Truck safety is a huge issue in Alabama. Major Interstates criss-cross Alabama, including I-65 running north-to-south and I-20/59 running east-to-west. Accident data reveals Alabama has one of the highest rates of truck-related crash deaths. And, side guards are a simple safety device proven to prevent needless injury and death. In fact, side guards would prevent some of the most horrible and tragic highway deaths. Side guards should be added to big trucks on our highways to prevent needless injuries and deaths.
Government Researchers Concluded Side Guards Are Needed! Then Trucking Lobbyists Silenced The Result!
The article title pretty much reveals the punchline. The people running one of the most important safety agencies bowed to industry lobbyists when lives were at stake. Of course, I’m not revealing any big surprise! In Alabama, disabled workers face an almost annual effort by insurance lobbyists to roll back already unfair workers compensation benefits. On a Federal level, industry lobbyists often push safety agencies like the Department of Transportation; Department of Labor (OSHA); and, Food & Drug Administration (FDA), into silence or inaction.
So, let’s look at the ProPublica article. It starts with the following:
In 2017, researchers at the U.S. Department of Transportation embarked on a project aimed at making America’s roads less dangerous.
They were concerned over the rising number of pedestrians and cyclists killed in collisions with trucks, which claim the lives of several hundred people every year.
The research team decided to focus on a safety device called a side guard, which is designed to reduce the hazards posed by large commercial trucks.
Made of plastic, aluminum or steel, the guards hang between the truck’s front and rear wheels, preventing pedestrians and cyclists from tumbling beneath the vehicles and getting crushed. The guards are required on trucks in dozens of countries, but they aren’t in wide use in the U.S.
Think about that — Side safety guards are a required safety device in “dozens of countries” but not the United States. In one of my past blog articles, I discussed clear data from the United Kingdom and Japan showing how this simple device could save lives. Why don’t big trucks use side guards in the United States?
The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) officials concluded their research with a recommendation that we adopt some side-guard standard in our country. Did the USDOT promptly publish its research? Did USDOT officials openly or publicly discuss the information with Congress or other safety advocates? No, it does not appear so.
Instead of using the data to discuss safety openly in the best interest of our citizens, DOT officials apparently (and repeatedly) discussed the research internally with trucking company lobbyists. At least, that’s what the ProPublica journalist discovered. I’m not surprised. Nor am I surprised industry lobbyists pressured government officials to ignore this safety need. According to ProPublica,
Over the span of at least six months, DOT officials repeatedly discussed the ongoing research with representatives of the nation’s largest trade group for trucking companies, the American Trucking Associations. And the ATA repeatedly pressured them to alter the report.
After meeting with the ATA in December 2018, the department supervisor overseeing the project had a very direct message for the researchers. “PLEASE delete any mention of a recommendation to develop … any regulation,” he wrote in an email. “An industry standard is acceptable, but no mention of ‘regulation.’”
The industry objections resulted in a remarkable concession from the department: It allowed trucking company lobbyists to review the researchers’ preliminary report and provide comments on it.
By the time of its release in 2020, the report had been dramatically rewritten, stripped of its key conclusions — including the need to federally mandate side guards — and cut down by nearly 70 pages.
The ProPublica article concludes with an actual statement from the former DOT supervisor who oversaw the project. That supervisor stated he “regretted his role in watering down” the report and the DOT’s deference to trucking industry lobbyists “ultimately contributed to his retirement.” Wow!
As a community, we should expect the safety gatekeepers (like the FDA, the DOT and OSHA) to put our health and lives first on the agenda. We should expect research into important safety issues to be untainted and unbiased by outside lobbyists. On the roads and highways of Alabama, protecting lives should be the primary goal!