Driving to Hartford the other day (no, you cannot really get there by train), I saw a beautiful sight: hundreds of trucks! Yet, motorists hate trucks and mistakenly blame them for traffic congestion and accidents that cause hours of delays.
Readers of this column know I’m a “rail guy” and would love to see freight trains replace trucks, but that ain’t gonna happen anytime soon. But as motorists we should not blame truckers for traffic woes of our own creation. Check the facts and you’ll find most highway accidents are caused by motor cars, not the trucks.
Do trucks drive too fast? Sure, but don’t we all? Next time you’re on I-95, check who’s in the high-speed left lane and you’ll see cars, not trucks.
Should there be better safety inspections of trucks? Absolutely! But for every overweight truck or overworked truck driver there are doubtless hundreds of unsafe cars and equally road-weary warriors behind the wheel whose reckless disregard endangers us all.
Truckers drive for a living. They are tested and licensed to far more rigorous standards than anyone else. And because they drive hundreds of miles each day, overall I think they are far better drivers. When’s the last time you saw a trucker juggling a cell phone and a latte like some soccer moms?
And remember … they’re not out there driving their big rigs up and down the highway just to annoy us. We put those trucks on the road by our voracious consumption patterns. Every product we buy at stores large and small, including the very newspaper or iPad you hold in your hand, was delivered by trucks. Want fewer trucks on the road? Just stop buying stuff.
By definition, trucks are high-occupancy vehicles. Compare the energy efficiency of a loaded truck delivering its cargo to you in your “SOV” (single-occupancy vehicle), even if it is a hybrid. Only rail offers better fuel efficiency.
Why are trucks jamming our highways at rush hour? Because merchants require them to drive at those times to meet the stores’ delivery timetable. If big-box stores and supermarkets took truck deliveries only in the overnight hours, our highways would flow much better at rush hour.
Truckers must use the interstates, while passenger cars may choose among many alternate routes. Why is the average distance driven on I-95 in Connecticut just 11 miles? Because most of us drive the ’pike for local, not interstate, trips.
If we were smart enough to “value price” our highways (i.e., return tolling), we’d see fewer vehicles of all kinds on I-95, and those that were willing to pay for the privilege of motoring there would get real value in a faster ride.
I’m hardly an apologist for the trucking lobby. But neither is it fair for us to blame anyone but ourselves for highway safety and congestion. It’s the SOV crowd, not the truckers, who are to blame. Let’s be honest about this mess of our own making and stop trying to blame truckers as our scapegoat. As the great philosopher Pogo once put it, “We have met the enemy and he is us!”
Jim Cameron is founder of the Commuter Action Group and a member of the Darien RTM. The opinions expressed in this column are only his own. You can reach him at [email protected] For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, see talkingtransportation.blogspot.com.