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Safety Groups Release List of Most Lethal States for Truck Crashes; Victims Urge Congress to Resist Industry Pressure to Weaken Hours of Service Rule

The Truck Safety Coalition
Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways ● Parents Against Tired Truckers
1606 20th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036

Oct. 17, 2005

Safety Groups Release List of Most Lethal States for Truck Crashes; Victims Urge Congress to Resist Industry Pressure to Weaken Hours of Service Rule

Government Gives Truckers a Free Pass on Rule Until End of Year;
Safety Groups Issue Travelers Alert

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The most lethal state in the country, measured by truck crash fatalities per 100,000 population, is Wyoming, followed by Arkansas, Alabama, West Virginia, Mississippi, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Georgia, according to data released at a press conference today.

Truck crash victims and safety advocates at the event highlighted the dangers posed by tired truckers – a major source of truck crashes – and called on Congress to resist pressure from the trucking industry to codify a dangerous rule that permits big rig drivers to stay on the road for too many hours before pulling over to sleep. Lawmakers are scheduled to consider the Department of Transportation appropriations bill as early as today, and this “must pass” bill could be the vehicle used to codify the weak rule, which became final in August.

The safety groups – Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH), Parents Against Tired Truckers (P.A.T.T.)Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, and Public Citizen – also issued a Travelers Alert warning the motoring public about the potential for sharing the road with lethally tired drivers behind the wheel of big rigs. The alert is necessary because the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is suspending enforcement of the hours of service rules rule until Oct. 24. The agency claims that suspending enforcement is necessary because the rule is new, although it is virtually the same as the rule issued in 2003. Between Oct. 24 and Jan. 1, state enforcement of the rule will be optional. The groups are sending the alert to thousands of consumers on e-mail listservs, posting it on the Web and urging reporters to warn the public.

“In giving states the green light to not enforce truckers’ hours of service, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is also giving the green light to unsafe driving conditions,” said Daphne Izer, founder of P.A.T.T., whose teenage son was killed in 1994 by a truck driver who fell asleep at the wheel. “No load of freight is worth a human life.”

The August rule, like its 2003 predecessor, allows truckers to drive 11 consecutive hours, instead of 10 hours – the established maximum since 1939. Studies show that concentration is increasingly impaired and safety is compromised after eight hours of driving and by lack of sleep. Over the course of a week, truckers can drive an additional 17 to 18 hours, and over the course of a month, truckers can drive an additional 70 hours. This big increase is the result of a 34-hour “restart” provision in the rule allowing truck drivers to drive when they had to take off-duty rest time under the pre-2003 regulation.   Also, the rule still features a drive-and-rest cycle of less than 24 hours, ignoring the 24-hour biological clock.

The danger big rigs pose to America’s drivers is growing. The Bush administration’s own data show that fatalities stemming from large truck crashes were up 3.1 percent from 2003 to 2004. More than 5,000 people are killed every year in crashes with big trucks on U.S. roads. It is well known that fatigue plays an important role in truck crashes.

According to a new analysis of 2004 data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, Wyoming had 8.09 truck crash deaths per 100,000 people. Arkansas came in second with 4.09 deaths per 100,000 people. Last on the list was Hawaii, with 0.32 deaths per 100,000. To see the chart that lists truck fatality rates by state, and to view the statements made at the press conference and other fact sheets, please go to www.citizen.org.

“In the last ten years, 56,935 people have died and a million more were injured in truck crashes in communities across the country,” said Jackie Gillan, vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. “American families are paying a steep personal and financial price for this public health disaster. Truck deaths are increasing, government safety goals are ignored and enforcement of safety rules is suspended while special trucking interests continue to push a dangerous agenda in Congress.   It’s time to stop coddling the trucking industry and make the safety of all motorists, including truck drivers, a priority.”

People whose lives have been devastated by truck crashes caused by tired truckers came from all over the country for the press conference, which was part of a “Sorrow to Strength” Conference that began Saturday. The object is for truck crash victims to meet each other, build strength and lobby for an hours of service rule that will protect the public. Victims came from Arizona, California, Washington, D.C., Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Virginia.

“I am here to tell the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration: Please do not turn a blind eye to the safety of our families,” said Linda Wilburn, of Hydro, Okla., whose son was killed in 2002 when a big rig slammed into the back of his car, which was stopped on an interstate. “I don’t want another family to have to experience the tragic pain of losing a loved one so senselessly.”

FMCSA was created in 1999, and in 2000, it proposed an hours of service rule that would have kept drivers on a 24-hour clock but expanded consecutive driving hours from 10 to 12. In 2003, FMCSA issued the final rule, but allows drivers to operate on a 21-hour schedule and boosted consecutive drive time from 10 to 11 hours. It permitted truckers to drive as many as 77 hours in a seven-day period or 88 hours in an eight-day period – an increase in total driving hours of nearly 30 percent. (These provisions remain in the August 2005 rule.)

In June 2003, safety groups sued, claiming the agency had ignored the health and safety of drivers. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit unanimously agreed in 2004, finding that the regulations were fundamentally flawed and unsupported by scientific evidence. Despite this rebuke, FMCSA’s August rule is virtually the same as the old one. In September, Public Citizen, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, CRASH, P.A.T.T., the Trauma Foundation and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters filed a petition for reconsideration. The 2003 rule has been in effect since January 2004 because the truckers persuaded Congress to extend its life until Oct. 1, 2005.

“Large trucks are rolling time bombs on our highways, with tired truckers allowed to work 14 and 16 hours a day under the new DOT rules, making truck driving the most dangerous occupation in America,” Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook said. “Our decades-long battle with the DOT to get reasonable truck driving hours of work continues. The families here today will be fanning out to their members of Congress to stop legislative enactment of these rules and are issuing a Travelers Alert about the DOT decision to not even enforce its new, inadequate rules at all for the next week and then barely do so until the end of the year. It’s past time for some sanity in trucking on our public highways.”

For materials from the press conference, click here.