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Groups Seek Court Order Compelling DOT to Issue Long-Overdue Truck Safety Rules

Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways *  Parents Against Tired Truckers * Public Citizen * Teamsters for a Democratic Union

Nov. 26, 2002

Groups Seek Court Order Compelling DOT to Issue Long-Overdue Truck Safety Rules

Agency Ignored Congressional Mandates; Rules Relating to Hazardous Materials, Background Checks, Fatigue and More Are Years Late

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A federal court should order the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to issue truck safety rules that are years overdue and critical to making highways safer, four groups said in a petition filed today with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington. The rules relate to such key issues as hazardous materials, background checks for drivers, inspection staffing levels at borders and the maximum number of hours truckers may drive continuously without rest.

On each of these, Congress ordered the DOT to issue rules to address the safety problem by a certain date, but those deadlines have long since passed. Several of the rules are more than nine years overdue, including rules to address who is authorized to transport hazardous materials, and minimum training standards and background checks for commercial truck drivers. Some of these safety issues have security implications that have taken on added importance since last year’s terrorist attacks. By ignoring its legal duty to issue these rules as Congress required, DOT is breaking the law, the groups charge in their suit.

The groups suing are Public Citizen, Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH), Parents Against Tired Truckers (P.A.T.T.) and Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU).

“These rules are critical to making our highways safer,” said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen and former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “This is the DOT’s job. Yet it has essentially thumbed its nose at Congress, ignoring Congress’ commands. As people hit the roads this Thanksgiving, they should be particularly concerned about the dangers posed by large trucks. Let’s hope we don’t have more holiday seasons before these safety standards are issued.”

“Precious lives are being lost every day on our nation’s highways because the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA), a division of the DOT, has refused to take action about the unsafe conditions on our highways,” said Daphne Izer, founder of P.A.T.T. “It is far past time for FMCSA to take real action to protect the American people — the drivers, passengers and truck drivers themselves — who use our roads.”

Said Randi Baun, executive director of CRASH, “The FMSCA has a long history of delaying, disregarding and diluting important and necessary safety regulations that would advance the safety of all motorists including truck drivers. Unsafe motor carrier companies and drivers continue to threaten the safety of the traveling public with impunity. One of four trucks on our highways should be put out of service for serious safety defects and violations. Meanwhile, the agency responsible for truck safety is asleep at the wheel.”

The rules DOT has failed to issue involve:

  • Minimum training requirements for drivers of longer-combination vehicles (multi-trailer rigs). Congress set a Dec. 18, 1993, deadline for a final rule. This rule is nine years overdue.
  • Minimum training standards for entry-level drivers of commercial motor vehicles. Congress required DOT to report on the effectiveness of private-sector training by Dec. 18, 1992, and to issue a final rule by Dec. 18, 1993. DOT submitted the report in February 1996 but never issued the rule, which is now nine years late.
  • Truck driver fatigue and required rest periods, hours-of-service and other fatigue-related issues. Congress directed DOT to issue a final rule by March 1, 1999. DOT itself has estimated that 755 fatalities and 19,705 injuries occur each year on the nation’s roads because of fatigued drivers. These vital rules are more than three and a half years overdue.
  • Requirements for authorization to transport hazardous materials. DOT was required to issue this important security- and safety-related rule by Nov. 16, 1991, but has done nothing. This rule is more than 11 years overdue.
  • Background checks for new commercial drivers, including what information prospective employers are required to obtain and what information prior employers are required to provide. Congress ordered DOT to issue a rule first by Jan. 26, 1996, and then by Jan. 31, 1999, but DOT has taken no steps to issue this rule. This rule is almost four years late.
  • Requirements for more truck safety inspectors at international borders. DOT was ordered to issue this rule by Dec. 9, 2000. This rule is now almost two years overdue.

“We are simply seeking an order telling DOT to obey the law,” said Marka Peterson, a lawyer with Public Citizen Litigation Group, which prepared the suit. “We are optimistic the federal court will agree with us because the DOT’s legal violations are so blatant. The pressing safety issues here – the higher risks on the highways that exist as long as the agency puts off action – gives the court further, compelling legal grounds for spurring the DOT into action.”

To view a copy of the suit, click here