Too much traffic? Don’t blame the trucks

Driving to Hartford the other day (no, you cannot really get there by train) I saw a beautiful sight: Hundreds of trucks! What surer sign of an economic recovery?

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 cars, not the trucks drawn into the incidents.

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 was the last time you saw a trucker juggling a cell phone and a latté like many 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 you hold in your hand, was delivered by trucks. Want fewer trucks on the road? Just stop buying stuff. (Editor’s note: But don’t stop subscribing to this newspaper!)

By definition, trucks are high-occupancy vehicles. Compare the energy efficiency of a 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 selfish merchants require them to drive at those times to meet their delivery timetable. If big-box stores and supermarkets only took truck deliveries in the overnight hours, our highways would flow must 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. Excessive speed and drinking cause most accidents, and the majority of accidents involve cars, not trucks.

Let’s be honest about this mess of our own making and stop making truckers our scapegoat. As the great philosopher Pogo once put it, “We have met the enemy and he is us!”

 

Jim Cameron has been a commuter from Darien for 21 years. He is chairman of the CT Metro-North/Shore Line East Rail Commuter Council, and a member of the Coastal Corridor TIA. You may reach him at [email protected] or trainweb.org/ct.

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