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Federal Agency Misses the Point – Again; Rule Governing Trucker Hours Puts Drivers at Risk

Dec. 11, 2007

Federal Agency Misses the Point – Again; Rule Governing Trucker Hours Puts Drivers at Risk

Statement of Joan Claybrook, President, Public Citizen*

How many times must the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) be told to improve working conditions for truck drivers before it gets it right? Apparently, more than twice. Today, the agency released yet another interim rule governing the number of hours truckers can drive without stopping (known as hours-of-service rules) that is practically identical to two rules that the courts struck down earlier this year and in 2004.

The third time is not the charm. The latest rule, which is subject to a 60-day comment period, astonishingly maintains the exact same 11-hour driving limitations and 34-hour restart provisions of rules past. Under this interim rule, drivers may continue to log an exhausting 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.

The Bush administration’s arrogance in believing it is above the law will force the nation’s truck drivers to continue enduring sweatshop-like working conditions. Which part of “health and safety” does FMCSA not understand? Truck driving is one of the most dangerous occupations. From 2003 to 2006, the number of deaths among occupants of large trucks increased from 726 to 805, according to the Department of Transportation. Additionally, nearly 5,000 people were killed in 2006 in crashes involving large trucks, while another 106,000 were injured. Research clearly shows the risk of a crash dramatically increases after 10 hours of driving. Tired drivers are putting themselves and all of us who share the highways with them at risk.

Instead of improving safety, FMCSA is continuing to allow large trucks to roll like time bombs on our highways. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results. With its action today, the administration has shown that it is willing to risk carnage on the highways to boost the bottom line for big corporations. We urge the agency to draft a rule based on science instead of industry politics – a rule that will protect truck drivers and those of us who share the road with them. To do otherwise is the height of insanity.

* Joan Claybrook was administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) from 1977-1981.