Keep Trucking - Cautiously

To blunt criticism that itÂ's too cozy with the trucking industry it regulates, the Clinton administration promised sweeping safety reforms aimed at cutting truck-related fatalities in half over the next 10 years, reports CBS News Correspondent Bob Orr.

"Being a truck driver is an enterprise," said Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater. "It is a privilege, not a right, and we owe a responsibility to the traveling public to make our transportation system as safe as it can be."

Slater pledged to:

  • double the number of safety inspections
  • levy stiffer fines
  • shut down unfit carriers
"Today, we face up to a time for action, and the plan that I have outlined deals with action," Slater declared at a news conference.

More inspectors will also be hired, if Congress comes up with an extra $56 million. Facing criticism, Slater resisted calls from Congress and the industry itself to create a special safety office for trucking oversight.

"There needs to be an administration dedicated to truck safety in the same way that the FAA is dedicated to air carrier safety," said Walter McCormack, of the American Trucking Association.

To help reach the goal of reducing truck-related fatalities from around 5,000 to 2,500 per year, high-tech truck equipment will be considered, including

  • black boxes
  • collision avoidance systems
  • speed-restriction controls
Tougher licensing requirements are likely, and to alleviate fatigue, truckersÂ' driving hours may be cut.

Cutting hours may be the single most important reform. But regulators and the trucking industry are still negotiating proposed changes in driving time—and to this point, the government has shown no stomach for forcing the issue.

Critics said the proposals were unlikely to produce quick results.

"Most of the things the secretary talked about are long-term. Most are proposals and actions they should have been taking," said Jacqueline Gillan, Vice President of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, a group with insurance industry support. "The safety community wants action."

Of the people most affected by the new safety proposals—the truck drivers themselves— most will tell you they do not like the new plan, reports CBS News Correspondent Drew Levinson.

"It wonÂ't work because they canÂ't enforce the laws now," said one trucker. "If they canÂ't enforce what is around now, how will they do the new stuff?"

Most of the truckers privately say they are not going to slow down. They say they need to be on the roads to make money.