“Wal-Mart Amendment” Discounts Danger of Tired Truckers; Creates Sweatshops on Wheels with 16-Hour Workdays

March 8, 2005

“Wal-Mart Amendment” Discounts Danger of Tired Truckers; Creates Sweatshops on Wheels with 16-Hour Workdays

Statement by Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook

If you were going on vacation with your family, would you plan to spend 11 hours a day driving, and then another five hours getting gas, eating, loading and unloading the car, or setting up a camping site – and then do that for five days in a row?

Chances are, you wouldn’t, because you would be concerned about nodding off at the wheel. But it’s essentially the routine that Wal-Mart wants its truckers to observe, week after week after week.

When the highway bill comes to the House floor tomorrow, Rep. John Boozman (R-Ark.) is planning to introduce an amendment on behalf of Wal-Mart and the snack food industry that will mean longer days for truck drivers – and more danger on the highways for our families. This is a “sweatshop on wheels” amendment. It would extend the allowable workday of truck drivers from 14 to 16 hours – twice the number of hours that most Americans work – without any additional pay! This means that a truck driver who starts his or her day at 8 a.m. could work until midnight – not 10 p.m., as is currently allowed.

Requiring truckers to work 16 hours straight is abusive and will further endanger motorists. The last thing we need is for tired truckers to become even more fatigued and threaten the safety of those around them on the roads

This cruel and brazen amendment would mean that truckers would be required to work the equivalent of an extra two months a year – and that’s without pay, because they generally get paid only for driving time. And since drivers are exempted from the Fair Labor Standards Act, they receive no overtime pay despite working significantly longer hours than most Americans.

The current rule already allows a grueling 14-hour day, with 11 hours of driving. The three hours of non-driving time is for loading, unloading, rest, eating and other activities. Although under the Wal-Mart amendment, the maximum time spent behind the wheel would remain the same, the amendment would increase by two hours the maximum working time for drivers, inevitably adding to driver fatigue. That would lead to more death and carnage on the highway.

This is unfair both to truck drivers and to American motorists who share the highways with big rigs. Truck driving already is the most dangerous job in America, meaning that it kills more workers on the job than any other occupation. Almost 5,000 people a year, most of them regular motorists, die in crashes involving big trucks each year, a toll that will climb higher if this amendment is enacted by Congress.

The hours-of-service rules for truckers have remained virtually unchanged since the early 1960s. In 1995, Congress required the U.S. Department of Transportation  to revise the regulations to reduce fatigue-related crashes and improve public safety. Instead, after years of delay, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), in 2003 proposed new standards that actually lengthened driving time from 10 to 11 hours. Numerous studies show that safety is compromised after eight hours of driving. Public Citizen, joined by other safety advocates, filed suit to block the rule. In July 2004, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the rule, saying that the agency had neglected to consider the health of drivers, which FMCSA was required to do under the law, and that there was “no scientific basis” for the agency’s decision.

This past September, after we won the lawsuit, the trucking industry and DOT slipped a provision into the highway bill extension requiring that the vacated rule remain in place until September 2005, in order to allow FMCSA time to rewrite the rule. Then, astoundingly, in January the Bush administration asked Congress to enact legislation to leave the flawed rule in place permanently. This is a shameless attempt to avoid accountability and oversight by the courts. No member of Congress has yet proposed adopting the administration’s proposal and it is not currently in the highway bill. It should not be enacted.

The FMCSA is, under the D.C. Circuit Court’s order, redrafting its rule. This is the proper venue for formulating the rules on truck driver hours-of-service – both the driving and work time limits. It is where all interested parties are allowed to comment and argue their views, and final decisions must be supported by the evidence. Congress should not interfere with that process.

We believe that a final rule should allow no more than 10 consecutive hours of driving time, and no more than 14 hours of on-duty time in each shift, with at least 10 hours of rest each day and a full weekend off work. The workday for drivers should follow the circadian cycle – or a 24-hour day – as opposed to the 21-hour shift rotation permitted under the 2003 vacated standard.

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Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, served as administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration from 1977-1981.

To read the press release and other statements from the press conference, click here.