Texas Needs Safe Roads, Not Dangerous Trucking Legislation

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By: Ware Wendell

We have a safety crisis on Texas roads. Texas has led the nation in the number of large truck crashes for years. Commercial trucks cause many more fatalities in Texas than other large states like California and Florida. Since 2009, the number of truck-related fatalities in Texas has increased an astonishing 105% at a time when our population has risen 18%. 

Texans face a clear and present danger on our roads because of the conduct of commercial vehicles. We’ve all experienced that feeling when you are boxed in by big rigs on the highway. The only real solution to the problem is safety, but trucking lobbyists are pushing legislation at the Texas Capitol that will make our roads even more dangerous.   

House Bill 19 undercuts safety by limiting evidence of corporate negligence in court. Trials would be split into two phases, confusing the jury and wasting judicial resources. At base, the bill enables many corporations to shield their unsafe conduct in the months and years leading up to the deadly wreck, shifting the blame to overworked drivers in the seconds before the crash. 

Some trucking companies cut corners for profit. They hire drivers who have no business being on the road, push them to drive longer and faster than is safe, and fail to maintain their trucks or  equip them with safety equipment. When corporations make these choices, they have a cost for the rest of us -- our lives. 

Shouldn’t grieving families be able to learn exactly what went wrong? Shouldn’t our courts be able to evaluate all of the facts so they can enforce the rules of the road, protecting all of us in the process? 

When our court system is not able to allocate costs appropriately after a catastrophic wreck, we all end up paying the price as taxpayers through charity care provided at county hospitals and social programs like Medicaid. Everyone should be fully responsible for their actions. Special interests should not receive special privileges. But these trucking industry bills make us subsidize the costs of reckless corporations. They privatize their profits and we socialize their risk. It is corporate welfare for the worst actors, and it puts safety-minded companies at a competitive disadvantage. Public policy should not encourage a race to the bottom. We must protect life.

Leading safety organizations like MADD, Central Texas Families for Safe Streets, Public Citizen, TexPIRG, first responders, and our group have asked state lawmakers to oppose this legislation. Most powerfully, many families directly impacted by dangerous commercial vehicles shared their tragic stories with the Legislature. Jay Rosenberg told lawmakers how a poorly-lit truck took the life of his wife, Leslie, and youngest daughter, Sophie, in an instant as she was heading back to A&M. Martin Mata recounted how he was dragged for over 700 feet under a speeding truck that lacked anti-lock brakes and enough protective guards, enduring over two months in a coma and more than 20 surgeries. Harold Bonin spoke about how his young son was blinded and rendered a quadriplegic when a truck ran a red light. The driver had 17 prior safety incidents, including running a stop sign, and the corporation had no real safety program. 

Hundreds of our fellow Texans have similar stories to tell each year. If this special interest trucking legislation passes, the pandemic of danger on our roads will only rise. Commercial vehicle companies must take safety seriously. They need to maintain their vehicles, train their drivers, and equip their fleet with safety devices like speed limiters, lights, and protective guards. What we don’t need is legislation that shields deadly corporations from the consequences of their conduct.

Lawmakers are hearing from lobbyists every day at the Capitol. They need to hear from you. Tell your state lawmakers to oppose the trucking bill because life is precious, and we can’t afford to lose more Texans.      


Ware Wendell is Executive Director of Texas Watch, a non-partisan, non-profit citizen advocacy organization that protects the rights of working families. Learn more at texaswatch.org/saferoads and take action at texaswatch.org/truckingdanger. 

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