The current administration’s goal to remove two existing regulations for each new one and cap the cost of new regulations, when applied to the trucking industry, may backfire. Many in the trucking industry believe that the government’s goal to eliminate “unnecessary rules” that supposedly are bad for business threatens the safety of truck drivers and other motorists who share the road.
Truck driver is one of the deadliest occupations in the U.S. From 2010 to 2015, truck driver fatalities rose 11.2 percent, with 745 drivers killed on the job in 2015. What makes this occupation so dangerous?
Long hours, low pay, and tough working conditions has a created an annual turnover rate of truck drivers to near 100 percent. Trucking industry experts say that the demand for rapid delivery due to the rise of online shopping has put more trucks on the road, contributing to higher incident rates for accidents and deaths. They say that the push to deliver the load, in too many cases, forces drivers to choose between productivity and safety. Due to de-regulation and de-unionization of the trucking industry, drivers have been incentivized by the pay-by-the-mile system to push themselves to maximize revenue from each shift, with more time driving and less time sleeping.
Administration Rolls Back Hours of Service Rules
The Hours of Service Rules for truck drivers set down by the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration (FMCSA) in 2013 limited a driver to work no more than 70 hours a week, with an eleven hour driving limit per day followed by 10 consecutive off-duty hours, and two consecutive 1am to 5am rest periods during a 34 hour restart. In December 2016, congress caused the FMCSA to suspend the requirement of rest periods.
The FMCSA pointed to research that showed that fewer rest periods coincide with less attentive drivers who were more likely to drift between lanes. Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa also came out strongly against the administration’s ruling, saying “It fails to recognize the benefit of well-rested truckers to overall highway safety. The rollback of these rules is short-sighted and one that could jeopardize the lives of Americans traveling on the nation’s thoroughfares. Truckers, like most of us, do their job better when they get proper rest.”
Trucker Sleep Apnea Study Halted
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has been calling for better screening of truck drivers for sleep apnea since 2009. Sleep Apnea is a serious disorder that occurs when a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep. People with untreated sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep, sometimes hundreds of times. Even brief episodes can disrupt normal sleep patterns and trigger fatigue and the need to sleep during the day.
In 2017, the Trump administration halted a year-old effort to seek better ways to screen truckers for sleep apnea, which has been linked to deadly accidents. According to a study released by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), fatigue and sleep deprivation is the most common cause of truck accidents due to driver error.
Life-Saving Speed-Limiting Devices on Trucks Delayed
As if tired truckers on the road aren’t dangerous enough, the administration’s zeal to limit new rules has brought a halt to the regulatory process within the Department of Transportation, forcing delays of other safety rules that, through years of efforts at compromise, have been projected to benefit highway safety.
In 2016, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) sought to limit how fast trucks, buses and other large vehicles can travel on the nation’s highways, claiming that the speed of heavy vehicles to 60 mph could save up to 498 lives annually. The nationwide limit would electronically cap speeds at 60, 65, or 68 mph with a device on newer U.S. vehicles that weigh more than 26,000 pounds. With the speed-limiting device, truck drivers would be physically prevented from exceeding it.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) estimated that the speed-limiting devices for trucks, already mandated in most developed nations, would save hundreds of lives, lower fuel use, and provide as much as $6.5 billion in benefits per year. The trucking industry is also on board, favoring this proposal. Yet, Trump’s rule requiring agencies to kill two existing rules for each new one will keep this rule in limbo until the DOT can find a way to save billions of dollars by cutting other regulations.
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