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Safety plan hits, misses

A Clinton administration proposal to slash the number of truck-related deaths by half over the next 10 years is laudable.

Some 5,000 people die in collisions with trucks each year. Increasing the number of commercial vehicle inspectors and boosting state and federal programs is a step in the right direction.The $56 million plan also calls for stiffer fines for violations and swifter action in shutting down unfit carriers.

All of this is good, but it doesn't address one of the main causes of truck accidents -- driver fatigue. The American Trucking Associations say Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater should have already reformed rules that regulate the amount of time truckers are on the road. We agree.

It should be noted that truck-related deaths fell in 1998. Federal drug testing regulations and policies maintained by individual trucking companies have helped curb the collisions.

Yet, drivers -- long-haul drivers in particular -- push driving time limits because of financial incentives offered by employers.

Truckers maintain that federal oversight is part of the problem. They want a separate federal agency to oversee motor carrier safety, as the Federal Aviation Administration does with airplanes.

Perhaps, then, trucking-related deaths would get some recognition.

In 1997, 5,355 people died in truck-related accidents. That same year, 600 million people traveled on U.S. airlines without a single fatality.

Imagine the public outcry if the figures were reversed.