A Maryland State Police lieutenant said yesterday that his study of 157 fatal accidents involving large trucks shows that the public is too quick to blame truck drivers for accidents when "they're no worse and no better than the average motorist."
And he said he found that defective truck safety equipment, such as brakes, are factors in fewer accidents than the public seems to think.
Lt. Richard H. McGee, who reconstructs accidents for the state police truck safety unit, said he reviewed the records of all fatal accidents involving trucks and other vehicles or pedestrians in 1989 and 1990 and found that only about a third of those accidents could be blamed on the truck or its driver.
He also found that only about 20 percent of those trucks had defective safety-related equipment.
The study, which looked at all the fatal accidents in Maryland involving trucks weighing more than 26,000 pounds in 1989 and 1990, was welcomed by the trucking industry.
"It shows that the trucks are safer, the drivers are safer, and obviously the highways are getting safer," said Edward Gallagher, a trucking executive and chairman of the board of the Maryland Motor Truck Association.
But William F. Zorzi Sr., spokesman for the Maryland chapter of the American Automobile Association, was skeptical of some findings, pointing out that of about 50,000 trucks inspected by the state police in Maryland last year, more than half were ordered off the road because of defective safety equipment.
He also said the study was "limited" because it didn't focus on the danger trucks pose to motorists regardless of who is at fault. "The big truck is twice as likely to be involved in a fatal accident as a car," he said. "And if there were 5,000 people killed in accidents between heavy trucks and cars, about85 percent of the fatals are the people riding in the cars.
"I don't mean to criticize [the study]," he said. "But in the big picture it doesn't mean too much."
On April 27, an asphalt-laden dump truck plowed into several other vehicles on Interstate 895 near the southbound Harbor Tunnel entrance, killing a 23-year-old Baltimore woman. Police said the truck's brakes were defective.
The driver has since been charged with manslaughter. The asphalt company, Cunningham Paving Co. of Crownsville, was later cited by state police safety inspectors for allegedly failing to perform required repairs on some of its truck fleet and not maintaining proper maintenance records.
Since that crash, Lieutenant McGee said, "the public thinks that every truck going down the road has defective brakes. And that's just not the case."
A spokesman said the state police plan to release the 38-page report tomorrow. Yesterday, they issued a two-page summary.
Lieutenant McGee said he decided to launch the study in February on his own initiative after he noticed that in most truck-auto accidents he investigated the fault appeared to involve the auto.- while the public, he said, tends to blame the trucks.
Frequently, Lieutenant McGee said, the car driver will crash into a truck or blunder into its path. "They either don't see the truck in BTC time and either crash into the rear or side, or they have the tendency to believe that a truck can stop in the same distance they can," he said. "That's obviously not the case."