Theater of the absurd

This started out as a plain old RAZZBERRY, and it’s definitely deserving of that. But I also think it’s deserving of a whole lot more.

It happened in a recent hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that was ostensibly about the FAST Act and things in it that would affect motor carriers and, more specifically, those folks behind the wheel with the CDLs. The fact that truckers had zero representation at the hearing is in itself worthy of a RAZZBERRY, but that’s not what I want to talk about.

No, what I want to talk about happened at the very tail end of the hearing, probably long after any sane person had stopped watching. Naturally, I was still tuned in and listening closely.

Good thing, too, otherwise I would have missed the show. Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee was the last member of the committee to question the panel of witnesses that included Jennifer Tierney, a board member for Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, or CRASH.

The subject at hand was underride guards and what followed was an exchange between the two that came off more like two members of a high school drama club reading from a prepared script. Rep. Cohen lobbed softball questions up in the air and Ms. Tierney knocked ’em down. They quoted statistics that sounded alarming but offered no context or insightful questions. It all came off – to me anyway – as a well-orchestrated bit of theater aimed at demonizing truckers and playing off the sympathies of those who have lost loved ones in trucking-related accidents.

About those sympathies. At one point Rep. Cohen said that he has found that the response from the trucking community in his district has been “negative, harrowing, and that the safety of a potential victim is not of a concern.”

Excuse me? With all due respect, congressman, just who the heck have you been talking to? How dare you sit there at a hearing to which not one single truck driver or other CDL holder was even invited and pretend to speak for what truckers are concerned about.

How about you talk to a trucker who has been involved in a crash where someone died and ask them if they have a concern for the victim? Or the trucker who – just recently – swerved his truck into a ditch to avoid hitting a school bus full of children. Do you think he had concern for the potential victims?

Ms. Tierney’s father died in a crash where his vehicle slid under a truck, and that is without a doubt a horrible tragedy, and I am truly sorry for her loss. But I also have no doubt that most truck drivers involved in a crash like that would feel the same way. Heck, most truck drivers period would feel the same way. Not that we would know it based on that hearing.

Rep. Cohen, you had no problem at all inviting a family who lost their son in a crash involving a truck to the hearing so that you could use their misery for political gain, but where were the truck drivers? What about the driver who was involved in that crash? These are human beings behind the wheels of those trucks, not monsters.

These kinds of one-sided emotional appeals are dangerous and only serve to further cloud the issue while completely ignoring the facts. And the facts, by the way, are these:

  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has determined that an underride mandate would be impractical and the costs would far outweigh any safety benefits.
  • The equipment with the strength needed to prevent underride wouldn’t be able to absorb energy in a collision and in fact could fully crush an automobile, causing even more damage and loss of life.
  • Underride guards would add another 1,000 pounds to already heavy trucks, and the cost alone would hit small business truckers the hardest.
  • Underride guards would limit the use of spread-axle trailers to distribute weight, thus decreasing efficiency and increasing safety risks.
  • According to recent statistics from the FMCSA, the point of impact for more than half of fatal truck-involved crashes occurred at the front of the trucks. Side impacts accounted for just 16 percent.

Those are cold, hard facts. Presented without emotion (other than a little righteous indignation). Underride guards would be a costly solution with little proven safety benefit. Period. And one other fact that isn’t listed up there is that truckers are some of the most caring, generous, dedicated, big-hearted, safety-minded people you’ll ever want to meet.

You might know that, congressman, if you ever bothered to meet any of them.

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