YOU don't have to be zipping along the freeway in a small car - US built or from somewhere overseas - to have a pang or two every now and then as a giant tractor-trailer rig thunders past you, horn blaring. Small car or big, when a big truck charges past you at full speed, you tend to be aware of it and more often than not to be left shaking in a rush of wind. Given all of the thousands of big trucks that haul goods across the roadways of the US, it is remarkable that the American truck safety record is as relatively good as it is. Unfortunately, however, not all big trucks make it down the highway without mishap, as federal statistics show. That is why a number of lawmakers are now calling for legislation to tighten up federal safety requirements for big trucks, including requiring installation of antilock braking devices.
Now, a new study by the US Department of Transportation identifies poor braking systems as a major factor in truck mishaps - perhaps in as many as one-third of them.
The study finds that the tests of antilock brake systems that are now under way in Europe are ``encouraging.''
Congress ought to use the new DOT study as the basis of careful hearings into truck safety. Convening such an inquiry is not to fault the trucking industry in general, or truck drivers in particular. As noted, they do a remarkable job under difficult circumstances. Rather, it is to take prudent steps to ensure that highway driving conditions are kept as desirable as possible for all drivers - those of passenger cars and buses, as well as tractor-trailer operators.
The DOT study suggests that there should be more attention given to the handling and stability of trucks, including their design. Also, more attention should be given to the training and behavior of drivers.
Precisely because of the crowded conditions that prevail on so many US roadways, it seems only prudent that such issues be explored by Congress.