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Truck Hours-of-Service Proposal Would Jeopardize Safety of Public, Truckers

June 20, 2000

Truck Hours-of-Service Proposal Would Jeopardize
Safety of Public, Truckers

Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook

As the administration prepares to revise the rules governing the maximum number of hours truckers may work in a day and the Senate Appropriations Committee attempts to delay the rules for a year on behalf of the trucking industry, truck crash victims and family members have come here today to put a human face on these rules. These rules, they will tell us, will determine whether people live or die on our highways.

Last winter, Congress created the new Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, whose statutory mission sets safety as the highest priority. Yet, that agency now is proposing to degrade safety by increasing the amount of time that truck drivers can remain behind the wheel from 10 to 12 hours a day.

The government also is proposing to allow companies to require some drivers who mostly perform other tasks (such as utility workers) to work up to 78 hours a week. Think about it: Seventy-eight hours a week. That’s exploitative, not to mention inhumane.

Driver fatigue is a major factor in up to 40 percent of all heavy truck crashes. The risk of a crash dramatically increases after 10 hours of driving, causing deaths, injuries and crash-caused congestion. The Department of Transportation states that fatigue is a direct cause of 15 percent of truck crash fatalities and injuries, resulting in more than 750 deaths and nearly 20,000 injuries each year. No wonder polls show that more than 80 percent of the public believe that fatigued drivers pose a serious danger to others on the highway and that their hours should not be increased.

Driving a truck also is one of the most deadly occupations in the United States. Increasing the consecutive driving hours for truck drivers is inhumane and rolls us back to pre-Depression Era working conditions. This dangerous proposal will result in a dramatic increase in the risk of crashes. Is it really worth risking the lives of our children and families just to push merchandise and other cargo a little farther down the road in a day?

Certain aspects of the proposed rules are valuable. For instance, drivers work is based on a 24-hour cycle respectful of the human circadian rhythm, and additional mandatory rest periods are required. Electronic on-board recorders are required for long-distance and regional drivers to assure effective enforcement of the rules.

Unfortunately, the trucking industry dislikes these provisions and is scheming to stall the rule. Industry Tactic Number One is to persuade Congress to delay the rule for a year through an appropriations rider, by which time the industry hopes that George W. Bush will be in the White House to do its bidding. Industry Tactic Number Two is to push for a “negotiated rulemaking” — a secretive consensus process that locks out the public and gives the industry the upper hand by allowing it to veto any proposal it dislikes.

The rules governing truck drivers were first set in 1937. A year later, truckers were exempted from provisions of the new Fair Labor Standards Act that require workers to be compensated for overtime (now based on a 40-hour workweek). Several times since then, officials have proposed to amend the rules. In 1978, the administration proposed to provide drivers with more rest time, and in 1992, officials suggested increasing driving hours. Neither of those proposals became final rules.

A year ago, the Secretary of Transportation announced that he was seeking a 50 percent reduction in truck crash fatalities by 2009. The voice of the trucking industry is powerful because of its economic clout and campaign contribution largesse, but if it is the only voice the Secretary heeds, he won’t achieve his goal.

The Secretary should listen to the public, because citizens are the ones most affected by fatigue-related truck crashes. In fact, in crashes that involve a passenger vehicle and a truck, 98 percent of the fatalities occur to other highway users.

The Secretary also should listen carefully to those who are with us today and to the families across the country who have suffered grievous tragedies. Their compelling stories will bring our concern into stark relief. When truckers eyelids droop, people die. Families such as the Bunces and Hamms can be shattered. Listen to their stories. For them, the hours-of-service rule hits home hard. Talk to Florida trucker John Harris. He can tell you that the government’s proposal doesn’t do the job and is dangerous for truckers.

A trucker’s job is difficult enough. It takes a physical toll, it takes a mental toll, and it can take a toll on all of us who share the roads with tired truckers. We strongly urge the government not to tack two more long hours onto truckers already lengthy days. We don t want to be standing here again next year, presenting more sad stories by devastated family members because the government did not heed our call not to increase the long hours truckers already drive.