Administration Effort to Harm Truckers Is Deplorable

July 27, 2005

Administration Effort to Harm Truckers Is Deplorable

Statement by Joan Claybrook, President, Public Citizen

It is deplorable that the Bush administration is launching an eleventh hour attempt to undermine trucker safety via the highway bill (H.R. 3), despite clear evidence that tired truckers are more likely to be dangerous truckers and despite a unanimous and harsh 2004 federal appellate court ruling against the administration’s anti-truck safety stance.

The administration is pushing to have Congress pass into law a new rule issued in 2003 by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regarding the hours that truckers can work. That rule, which took effect January 2004, set a 14-hour workday and permits truckers to drive up to 11 hours. (Before 2004, truckers could drive no more than 10 consecutive hours.) Also under the new rule, truckers may drive up to 77 hours in seven days, or 88 hours in eight days – a 20 percent increase.

Public Citizen, along with Parents Against Tired Truckers and Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways sued, and the court agreed the new rule was bad for safety. It said that when writing the rule, the administration did not take worker health into account and that the rule was fundamentally flawed. The court told the administration to go back to the drawing board. Now, however, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and other Bush administration officials are trying to use Congress to do a last-minute end-run around a court ruling they don’t like. Neither the House nor Senate version of the highway bill contains any such provision and the bill is in its final stages of completion, with a conference report expected tonight.

Also, special interests are pushing to have a measure added to the highway bill that would extend trucker workdays by two hours to 16 hours – an excessively long day that research shows would lead to a dramatic increase in highway crashes. This is the same measure pushed in March by U.S. Rep. John Boozman (R-Ark.) and supported by Wal-Mart and other retail truckers. After safety advocates publicized its harmful consequences, Boozman withdrew it.

But now it is back. It should not be adopted because it would exploit truck drivers and put drivers of other vehicles in greater danger. It would allow breaks to be taken off the clock – a dangerous and unreasonable alternative for an overworked labor force. Further, it would allow truckers to be asked to work double the workdays of most of the U.S. labor force under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Instead of increasing the number of hours truck drivers work and trying to circumvent the court, administration and congressional leaders should reduce the overall driving shifts for truck drivers. To do anything else puts everyone on our highways in jeopardy.

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To read a letter sent today to Mineta by Public Citizen, Parents Against Tired Truckers, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, and Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, click here.