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How safe are trucks on Pennsylvania roadways?

Truck accidents on the Pittsburgh roadways have unfortunately become all too common. Since 2009, 14,000 people have died as a result of big-rig truck accidents. Accident rates vary between states due to differences in terrain and weather patterns, as well as irregularity of enforcement.

While Pennsylvania is closer to the bottom of the list, with only .18 crashes per million miles traveled by heavy trucks in the state, there are still many people are dying unnecessarily. What makes things worse is that many of these deaths may have been preventable. Close to one quarter of the trucks involved in these fatal crashes had been previously cited for safety violations.

The good news is that large trucks are almost as safe as passenger cars these days. However, the bad news is that there are still many trucks on the road that are unsafe to drive. In fact, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration data, one in six trucks pulled for inspection was unfit for driving.

Pennsylvania is doing its part to prevent these unsafe vehicles from taking to the roadways. From 2009 to 2013, Pennsylvania inspectors have handed out over 17,000 out-of-service violations for defective parts and over 9,000 brake-related violations. From 2013 to 2014, Pennsylvania cited close to 19 percent of trucks with out-of-service during random inspections, which is close to the national rate of 20 percent.

While the federal government polices many different modes of transportation, large trucks do not get as much attention beyond funding. States also have different ideas as to what warrants a violation. The FMCSA has safety guidelines and basic requirements, but lets each state submit their own enforcement plan for review.

This gives states the power to decide what should be enforced. While this can be a good thing, there are issues with consistency. A truck cited in one state may not catch the attention of an officer in another state. A new federal safety scoring system called "Compliance, Safety, Accountability," provides a numeric safety rating to truck carriers and posts them online. While some companies find this system to be unfair, it is a step in the right direction to help prevent at least some of these fatal truck accidents.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Is that big rig road worthy?" Andrew McGill, Dec. 21, 2014

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