Propaganda is an ugly word

This post is an echo of one I made at: http://voices.injuryboard.com/tractor-trailer-accidents/propaganda-is-an-ugly-word.aspx?googleid=271152

We need to get a few things straight here. You can think of this post as a wholesale reply to the IB posts listed at the end of this article. The list of IB posts that I’ve given isn’t complete — there were so many that I finally quit wading through them. All of them either reference the recently published AAJ or CVSA statistics.

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines propaganda as “…the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person; ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one’s cause or to damage an opposing cause; also : a public action having such an effect”

Let’s read a comment recently posted here on IB:

In response to http://charlottesville.injuryboard.com/tractor-trailer-accidents/four-out-of-five-aint-bad-new-research-fnds-1-out-of-5-trucks-unfit.aspx?googleid=270194 was the following:

Posted by Brandon
September 03, 2009 8:31 AM

This “study” by the American Association for Justice–formerly known as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America–makes numerous false claims about the trucking industry and appears to be nothing more than an attempt to scare citizens into suing motor carriers.

Facts show that the truck-involved fatality rate is now at its lowest since the U.S. Department of Transportation began keeping those statistics in 1975.

Many of the “violations” cited by the AAJ are merely de minimus paperwork violations that have no effect on safety. In addition, 28,000 motor carriers make up only 4.8 percent of the number of the 579,759 motor carriers in the United States as reported by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Regarding AAJ’s mention of the July 2009 Government Accountability Office study, except for two references, the report is focused exclusively on bus companies. ATA supports efforts by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to put unsafe trucking companies out of business, and supports giving further resources to FMCSA to help them prevent those companies from reopening under a new name.

The overwhelming majority of fatal truck-involved crashes are caused by passenger vehicles. According to a 2002 study by the American Association of Automobiles, 80 percent of fatal truck-involved crashes are caused by passenger vehicles. A 2006 Virginia Tech analysis of two studies conducted for the Department of Transportation found that 78 percent of crashes were caused by passenger car drivers.”

Much has also been made of the 20% Vehicle Out Of Service (OOS) rate during the 2009 CVSA Roadcheck event.

Let’s talk a little bit about trucks, defects, the CVSA, and their annual Roadcheck event. According to the 2009 CVSA RoadCheck numbers,(http://www.cvsa.org/news/2009_press.aspx) about 20% of the vehicles inspected were placed OOS. Of that number, about 70% were for brakes, lights, or tires. Sounds pretty bad, until you look at it’s actual impact. According to the LTCCS at (http://www.nhtsa.gov/staticfiles/DOT/NHTSA/NRD/Articles/ESV/PDF/18/Files/18ESV-000252.pdf), tire and brake failures together accounted for less than 1% of crashes in their sample. Hmmm….that seems to be considerably less than 20%, Let’s take a more detailed look at a couple of the most common defects that inspectors find — air leaks, and brakes out of adjustment, and look at how things really are.

First, let’s deal with brake adjustment. Most air-brake equipped trucks nowadays have automatic slack adjusters on their brakes. These actually do an excellent job keeping brakes properly adjusted. Paradoxicallly, good drivers are actually more likely to have brakes that have drifted out of adjustment. This is because automatic adjusters only function when their preset stroke length is exceeded. Light brake applications (which is what good drivers do) don’t usually reach full stroke, and over time, fail to compensate for wear, causing the brakes to gradually go out of adjustment. This is actually easy to remedy — all it takes is applying the brakes firmly a few times, and that will bring them back into adjustment. Having any of the 10 sets of brakes on a tractor-trailer out of adjustment is DOT OOS.

Air leaks are the other common defect that inspectors find. The DOT OOS criteria are “more than 4 pounds of air loss in a minute for combination vehicles” and “any audible air leak”. The most common are audible air leaks. Are these really hazardous? Mostly not. For example, the air compressor in my truck is capable of maintaining safe operating pressure in my braking system with a completely severed 1/4″ air line. It will also keep up operating pressure for a completely severed 3/8″ air line, as long as the engine rpm stays high enough. That’s actually quite a lot of air. Leaks of this severity are very much the exception rather than the rule — and get fixed quickly. Mostly what you get are minor leaks — a little seepage around a fitting, or a pinhole chafed through a line, both of which are simple (and cheap) to fix. A little twist of a wrench, or cutting the line and inserting a splicer fitting quickly remedies the problem. These air leaks don’t even have to be in the actual braking system at all. There are many accessories on trucks that are air operated, but have nothing to do with the braking system, other than sharing a common air supply, yet are still considered OOS if leaking.

Most of the time, when these minor items are found on an inspection, the result isn’t a citation and being placed out of service. The inspector will simply say “fix it”. A quick twist with a wrench will correct that maladjusted brake, or tighten up that leaky fitting. During Roadcheck, it’s another matter entirely. Then, the idea is to write as many citations as possible, for every flaw that can be found, no matter how minor.

The manner of selecting trucks for inspection also influences OOS rates. Inspectors frequently target older trucks, or from particular companies, or use other strategies in an attempt to raise the probability of finding something wrong. In other words, the 72,782 truck and bus inspections conducted during Roadcheck 2009 are far from being a truly random and representative sample of the trucks on the highway. Therefore, the 20% OOS figure being applied to all trucks on the road, is (at best) a seriously flawed use of statistics.

According to Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Fear always springs from ignorance.”
Bertrand Russell continues in the same vein with “Neither a man nor a crowd nor a nation can be trusted to act humanely or to think sanely under the influence of a great fear.”

If fear springs from ignorance, then what springs from misinformation?

As I said (in part) in a response to: http://voices.injuryboard.com/tractor-trailer-accidents/as-americans-take-to-roads-this-labor-day-new-report-details-epidemic-of-deadly-trucks.aspx?googleid=269704,

“...Rather than using such scare tactics, wouldn’t it be more productive to do something to help alleviate these problems? How about supporting Jason’s Law? If you’re not familiar with it, you can go to (https://truckied.wordpress.com/jason/). What about the serious long-term problems with grocery warehouses? (see: http://voices.injuryboard.com/tractor-trailer-accidents/why-groceries-cause-truck-crashes.aspx?googleid=263138).

Truck bashing doesn’t solve problems; what it does, is give us badly written regulations and ineffective programs, which is the situation we’re in now. Things are slowly changing, but until the hysteria stops, and logic, science, and good sense are applied, there will be a lot more preventable deaths and injuries.”

Mark Twain said: “The history of the race, and each individual’s experience, are thick with evidence that a truth is not hard to kill and that a lie told well is immortal.”

This seems to be the case with the constant reappearance of this same flawed information over and over.

One of my purposes in writing a blog here on IB is to try to correct this type of misinformation, and to help educate IB’s members and readers about trucks and truck safety. If fear comes from ignorance, then respect comes from education. I’d really like to see more diligence by authors when writing about trucks. If there’s something you’re not sure of, or have a question about, send me an email and ask. That’s what I’m here for. Please help me to educate and inform, and stop with the scare tactics and sensationalism. Leave that to the grocery store tabloids.

Comments welcome.

The following is the list of articles that this is a reply to:

http://virginiabeach.injuryboard.com/tractor-trailer-accidents/trucking-crossroads-interstate-i81-in-virginia-scene-of-spate-of-trucking-accidents.aspx?googleid=271052
http://wilmington.injuryboard.com/tractor-trailer-accidents/mother-hit-by-tractor-trailer-while-changing-tire-on-i40-highlights-need-for-safety-precautions.aspx?googleid=270910
http://bentonville.injuryboard.com/tractor-trailer-accidents/gambling-on-the-road-18-wheelers.aspx?googleid=270524
http://vancouver.injuryboard.com/tractor-trailer-accidents/truck-accidents-on-the-rise.aspx?googleid=270210
http://charlottesville.injuryboard.com/tractor-trailer-accidents/four-out-of-five-aint-bad-new-research-fnds-1-out-of-5-trucks-unfit.aspx?googleid=270194
http://nashville.injuryboard.com/tractor-trailer-accidents/companies-keep-unsafe-trucks-and-drivers-on-the-road.aspx?googleid=270026
http://bloomington.injuryboard.com/tractor-trailer-accidents/report-finds-thousands-of-unsafe-trucks-on-americas-highways.aspx?googleid=269898
http://northdallas.injuryboard.com/tractor-trailer-accidents/are-us-roads-filled-with-unsafe-trucks.aspx?googleid=269794

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