Cut FMCSA in Half

scissors-cut-hundred-dollar-bill-half-isolated-white-background-36088642I have been thinking about this for awhile, so I thought I would post it. It’s something I wish new DOT Secretary Elaine Chao would review, and think about.

Let’s say, there are 35,092 people in a town, and they are all completely infected with a deadly strain of the superflu. The government quarantines 1,356 of them, and moves heaven and earth to save them. It runs blood tests. It assigns a doctor to each patient. It spends money on research. It leaves no stone unturned. The remaining 33,736, it does little or nothing to help. It gives them a few aspirins, shows them a few public service health videos, and wishes them good luck.

Wouldn’t you question why the 1,356 are being treated so favorably? Who are those people which makes them so special? I believe this metaphor exists right now in highway safety. The 1,356 are people killed by a truck. The government tries incredibly hard to save their lives. The 33,736 are people killed by a car. The government does next to nothing to save them.

Two of the primary agencies within the Federal DOT which are tasked with the reduction of highway fatalities are the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), and the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). We are all very familiar with FMCSA, and their works, but who is NHTSA? NHTSA is the agency which makes the rules as to how vehicles must be manufactured. They also study highway designs, and look for safety improvements. They send money to the States to be used in reducing accidents. For example, a state or local police agency holds a seat belt checkpoint. The money to pay for such an activity might have come from NHTSA. They also advertise on TV about the virtues of wearing your seatbelt, and not drinking and driving.

In 2015, which is the last full, complete year of data, 35,092 people were killed on the road, according to NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) database. Of the 35,092, 4,067 were killed in an accident involving a truck, defined as a motor vehicle with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating of 10,001 lbs. or more.

2015 total deaths 35,092
2015 truck deaths 4,067

The vast majority of truck accidents are not the fault of the truck. Personally, I think the range is somewhere between 20-30% of truck accidents are the truck’s fault. However, for purposes of this discussion, let’s say 33% of all fatal accidents are the truck’s fault.

So, we take the number of truck deaths, 4,067, and multiply by 33%, which gives us 1,356. This is number of people killed in 2015, where it was the truck’s fault. Said another way, these would be the people killed where the truck could or should have done something different to prevent that death. If 1,356 people were killed in accident where the truck was at fault, we can then also find out the number of people killed where the truck was not at fault, or not involved to begin with. Simply take the total number of 35,092, and subtract 1,356, which equals 33,736.

2015 deaths caused by a truck 1,356
2015 deaths caused by a car 33,736

The 1,356 truck deaths would be ones which the FMCSA might be able to prevent through their enforcement efforts. These would be accidents where the truck driver fell asleep, had a medical episode or seizure, was texting, was going too fast, following too closely, or just simply made a mistake.

The 33,736 car deaths are ones which the FMCSA has no ability to solve. These would be ones where a drunk motorcyclist slams into the back of a truck. Or a teenager is texting, and hits another car. Or a car is driving too fast, and rolls over. Or a drunk car driver, hits another car or a pedestrian. These accidents happen around 80 times a day. FMCSA has no say in them, because all they regulate are trucks. NHTSA is the Federal agency tasked with limiting these accidents.

In 2016, according to a NHTSA document, the NHTSA budget was $869,032,000. The FMCSA budget in 2016, according to an FMCSA document, was $580,400,000.

2016 NHTSA budget $869,032,000
2016 FMCSA budget $580,400,000

This makes no sense. There are roughly 25 times more people killed in car-at-fault accidents than truck-at-fault accidents. Yet the budgets of the two respective agencies are nowhere near that ratio. Here is the amount of money spent per death by each agency:

NHTSA: $869,032,000 / 33,736 = $25,759
FMCSA: $580,400,000 / 1,356 = $428,023

My conclusion is a simple, obvious one. Way too much money is being given to the FMCSA. Not enough money is being allocated to NHTSA. Is a death caused by a truck somehow more tragic, more terrible, than one caused by a car? Of course not.

Elaine Chao, and Congress, should raise NHTSA’s budget. The people aren’t going to put up with more taxes, though. That’s why Donald Trump was elected. So, where to get the money? Again, the answer is simple: take the money from the FMCSA budget and give it to NHTSA. Really, the FMCSA could be cut in half, and no one would know the difference, in terms of accidents.

If DOT was serious about reducing highway deaths, they would put their money where it would do the most good: towards the 96% of deaths caused by cars, rather than focusing on the 4% caused by trucks.

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