WASHINGTON. Despite the ongoing and overwhelming effort to distribute billions in transportation infrastructure from President Obama's economic stimulus package, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood stated here yesterday that that effort won't distract his agency from its "number one priority" going forward-- improving highway safety.

"Safety of our transportation system is always going to be our number priority at the DOT," he emphasized during speech during the Dept. of Transportation's annual "Bring Your Child to Work Day" activities. "That safety focus is across all modes of transportation – trains, buses, airplanes and trucks."

LaHood said he remains focused on the "immediate goal" of getting $28 billion in highway infrastructure funding, $12 billion in transit system monies and $8 billion to develop a national "high speed rail" network into the hands of state governors and municipalities as fast as possible.

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WASHINGTON. Despite the ongoing and overwhelming effort to distribute billions in transportation infrastructure from President Obama's economic stimulus package, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood stated here yesterday that that effort won't distract his agency from its "number one priority" going forward-- improving highway safety.

"Safety of our transportation system is always going to be our number priority at the DOT," he emphasized during speech during the Dept. of Transportation's annual "Bring Your Child to Work Day" activities. "That safety focus is across all modes of transportation – trains, buses, airplanes and trucks."

LaHood said he remains focused on the "immediate goal" of getting $28 billion in highway infrastructure funding, $12 billion in transit system monies and $8 billion to develop a national "high speed rail" network into the hands of state governors and municipalities as fast as possible.

He noted that efforts made by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) over the last nine years "should serve as an inspiring example" of how to improve highway safety where commercial vehicles are concerned.

"Since 2000, fatalities resulting from truck-car collisions decreased 13% to the lowest on record," he said. "Today 72% of truck drivers wear their seat belts, up from 50% just five years ago, And last year FMCSA conducted 3.5-million roadside inspections – an all-time record."

Rose A. McMurray, FMCSA Acting Deputy Administrator, stated that commercial vehicles are not the primary cause of truck-car collisions – and that fact must be taken into account as the agency moves forward with future safety efforts.

"More than 50% of the time in truck-car accidents, the passenger vehicle is the primary cause of the crash," McMurray said, referencing FMCSA‘s own crash analysis studies that found 56% of crashes involving a large truck and a passenger vehicle are caused by to the passenger vehicle driver, with the remaining 44% the fault of the truck driver. "That's why it's important that we continue to highlight to the public how to drive safely around these big rigs," she stressed.

To emphasize the need to drive safely around big trucks, the American Trucking Assns. (ATA) brought to the event its "Share the Road" campaign tractor-trailer, which is sponsored by industry suppliers, including Mack Trucks and Michelin North America among others.

Barbara Windsor, vice chair of ATA and chair of its safety task force, said trucking industry is as safe as it's ever been. She noted the large truck fatal crash rate dropped by 23% over the last decade-- despite a huge increase in the number of vehicle miles traveled. Yet Windsor noted more could be accomplished if motorists would simply learn to operate their vehicles in a safer manner around tractor-trailers.

"People just don't realize how many blind spots there are around tractor-trailers, nor do they realize they can't stop on a dime like cars – in fact, they need twice as much space and time to stop," Windsor told FleetOwner.

"Everyone knows it's not always the truck's fault – and the statistics back that up," she said. "But we can't take trucks off the highway, either. So we need to work more closely together – government and the trucking industry – to help educate the public about how to drive more safely around trucks."