March 8, 2005
Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety * Public Citizen * CRASH * P.A.T.T. * AFL-CIO * Teamsters
“Wal-Mart Amendment” Would Increase Trucker Hours, Endanger Motorists
Safety Groups Call on Congress to Reject Deadly Measure
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Public safety advocates called on Congress today to defeat a measure being pushed by Wal-Mart and other retail and short-haul truckers that would extend truckers’ workdays to 16 hours – an excessively long day that research shows would lead to a dramatic increase in highway crashes. U.S. Rep. John Boozman (R-Ark.) plans to introduce the measure, H.R. 623, as an amendment to the highway bill tomorrow on the House floor.
Sixteen hours is double the standard eight-hour workday and two hours longer than the day truckers now may be required to work, the safety advocates said at a press conference held on Capitol Hill. Wal-Mart is among the country’s worst 100 carriers in terms of crash rates, according to the Department of Transportation. In 2003, 5,382 Wal-Mart truckers traveled the roadways; 173 Wal-Mart trucks were involved in highway crashes, causing 10 fatalities.
“Requiring truckers to work 16 hours straight is inhumane,” said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, which has worked for years to lower the number of hours in a trucker’s workday. “It’s pure exploitation and a safety hazard to have rolling sweatshops on our highways where drivers work the equivalent of two full workdays in a single day. Not paying them for this two extra months a year of work is outrageous.”
Said Daphne Izer, founder of Parents Against Tired Truckers (PATT), whose son and three friends were killed October 1993 in a crash involving a tired Wal-Mart truck, “What Wal-Mart is seeking will lead to more highway slaughter and more shattered lives. Congress bestows enough gifts on industry as it is. Lawmakers should not give Wal-Mart this gift.”
Almost 5,000 people die annually in the United States in crashes with trucks. The National Transportation Safety Board estimates that 30 to 40 percent of truck crashes are caused by tired truckers. The Wal-Mart amendment would require truckers to work 10 extra hours per week, adding up to a maximum of two extra months of work per year with no extra pay. Working more than 60 hours per week in any job increases the odds of a sleep-related crash by 40 percent, research shows.
“On behalf of the 600,000 Teamsters who work on our nation’s highways and byways, and in the interest of public safety, we must stop this ill-conceived measure in its tracks,” said Jim Hoffa, president of the Teamsters Union. “I call on the Congress to recognize the fatal flaws with this amendment and vote it down.”
Added John Murphy, vice-president of the Teamsters Union, “Every day, 600,000 Teamsters start their shift by turning the key to an 18-wheeler, delivery van, highway maintenance truck, school bus or some other work vehicle. In addition, we represent tens of thousands of toll collectors, construction workers, and public safety officers across the nation. I’m here today to represent those hard-working Americans because – for them – highway safety means workplace safety.
The Wal-Mart amendment is an attempt make an end-run around a D.C. Court of Appeals ruling last year. The court found that the rule setting the current 14-hour workday – which took effect January 2004 – did not take worker health into account. It also described the rule as fundamentally flawed in every area challenged by the parties and unsupported by scientific evidence. The ruling came after a lawsuit was filed in 2003 by Public Citizen, Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways and PATT.
“Safety groups, truck crash survivors, truck drivers and the American public are tired of attempts in Congress to roll back safety,” said Jaqueline Gillen, vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. “Public opinion polls show that Americans are tired of inadequate government attention to truck safety problems. We ask Congress to give it a rest and stop these assaults on safety.”
The rule at issue in the case permitted up to 11 hours of consecutive driving. Before 2004, truckers could drive no more than 10 consecutive hours.
Last year, in response to a request from the Bush administration, Congress enacted temporary legislation allowing the new rule to stay in place for one year, until September 2005, so that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) could develop a rule consistent with the court’s ruling.
“Many truck drivers are already exhausted working fourteen-hour days, and adding two more hours to the workday will only increase fatigue and compromise overall highway safety,” U.S. Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) said. “More than 15,000 Americans have died in truck-related accidents in the last three years; the Boozman Amendment threatens to exacerbate this public health crisis.”
Also attending the press conference were Rick and Ann Curl, from Overland Park, Kansas, whose 15-year-old daughter, Ashley, was killed in a crash caused by a tired trucker in 2001 when she was returning from a horse show.
“Our daughter was needlessly killed by a tired trucker. If a tired pilot causes a plane crash Congress demands action, but tomorrow it will vote on a special interest bill to make tired truckers work even longer hours. How many more Ashleys have to die before the government gets serious about truck driver fatigue?” asked Rick Curl.
The safety groups also denounced attempts by the administration to amend the SAFETEA reauthorization bill by removing the requirement that FMCSA consider driver health in promulgating rules and enacting the overturned rule into law. This would gut the agency’s ability to protect not only truckers but also the public, the groups said. The administration should fulfill its safety priority mission and re-issue a scientifically sound new hours-of-service rule, and should not look to Congress to help it evade its clear responsibility to protect truck driver health and public safety.
To read the statements from the press conference, click here.