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Bush Administration’s Rule Forces Truckers to Drive to Point of Exhaustion, Puts Motorists at Risk

Nov. 18, 2008 

Bush Administration’s Rule Forces Truckers to Drive to Point of Exhaustion, Puts Motorists at Risk     

Statement of Joan Claybrook, President of Public Citizen*

At this point, in the 11th hour of the Bush administration, we weren’t holding out much hope that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) would suddenly change course and do the right thing when it comes to limiting the number of hours truckers may spend behind the wheel. And true to its eight-year history of putting corporate profits above consumer protection, the Bush administration didn’t disappoint.

The rule that FMCSA released today governing the number of hours truckers can drive each day (known as hours-of-service rules) is practically identical to two rules that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia struck down last year and in 2004 after Public Citizen challenged the regulations.

FMCSA’s rule, which ignores mountains of safety research, authorizes the exact same 11-hours of driving and 34-hour restart provisions of rules past – rules that the court deemed were inadequate. Under the rule, drivers may continue to log a physically and mentally demanding 77 hours behind the wheel in a seven-day period, take a mere 34 hours off, then hit the road to do it all over. In addition, drivers can be required to work 14 hours a day, which includes loading and unloading cargo. The rule also fails to require electronic on-board recorders that are essential to assure effective enforcement of the rule.

This rule will continue to force truck drivers to continue enduring sweatshop-like working conditions. This puts the health and safety of drivers at risk, along with the public who must share the road with tired truckers. From 2003 to 2006, the number of annual deaths among occupants of large trucks increased from 726 to 805, according to the Department of Transportation. Additionally, nearly 4,584 people were killed in 2007 in crashes involving large trucks, while another 76,000 were injured. Research clearly shows the risk of a crash dramatically increases after eight hours of driving.

The Obama administration and the next Congress should add the hours-of-service rule to its list of wrong-headed Bush administration policies that should be rescinded. The courts, the truckers’ unions and consumer and safety advocates have pushed for a sensible rule to no avail. For real change, it’s time to put the safety of truckers and the motoring public first.

*Note: Joan Claybrook was administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration from 1977-1981.