We have all had that experience of driving on the interstate and seeing a tractor-trailer truck barreling down the road behind us. It is scary. And when you begin to look at the trucking industry’s influence with our elected officials it gets scarier. The trucking associations combined spend about $20 million every year influencing Congress. The various groups, including the most prominent, CERT (the Coalition for Efficient and Responsible Trucking), are working to increase “efficiency” and profit for the trucking industry. Efficiency, as the trucking industry sees it, is measured by increasing the number of hours on the road, the size of rigs, and the increased weights. There is very little conversation among the industry focused on safety—of their drivers or the other motorists on the road with their tractor trailers.
In 2013 there were 3,541 truck crashes leading to the deaths of 3,964 people. The number of deaths by tractor trailer-related accidents rose 17% during the 4-year period from 2009 to 2013. The numbers of fatalities decreased in 2014, but overall crashes and injuries increased. And they will likely continue to do so if the trucking lobby is successful in pushing back safety regulations in the name of “efficiency”.
As our budget legislation has become more contentious, the trucking industry has been able to get amendments quietly slipped into massive pieces of legislation, virtually hidden from the public eye. For example, a bill to undo sleeping regulations (i.e., how much sleep commercial truck drivers are required to have before driving) was quietly slipped into the 2016 spending bill and passed without full examination or discussion.
The trucking industry is pushing for changes that a majority of Americans disagree with, according to a survey conducted by Huffington Post and YouGov. The ‘disagree’ answers range from 57% to 71% of respondents in opposition to these proposals:
- Lowering the age limit for tractor trailer drivers to age 18.
- Raising the weight limit to more 90,000 pounds (gross weight).
- Allowing tractor trailers to be up to 80 feet long (increasing the size of individual trailers from 28 feet each to 33 feet).
- Allowing truck drivers to work up to 82 hours a week, an increase from the current 70 hours limit.
HuffingtonPost.com When truckers are paid by the load or by the mile, the incentive for them is to get a load delivered as quickly as possible in order to get to the next paying job. It is tempting to put in long grueling hours, which results in sleep-deprived drivers. Some of the most notable accidents in the transportation industry in recent years have been attributed to truck drivers falling asleep behind the wheel. There is evidence, and yet there are Senators who seem willing to ignore the safety of American citizens in order to support the trucking industry. Money greases the wheels of Congress, so to speak.
Other significant issues that the industry is fighting against include federal motor safety ratings, studies linking sleep apnea with increased rates of crashes, and raising insurance requirements for trucking companies (currently capped at $750,000).
Michael McAuliff, a Senior Congressional reporter for Huffington Post sums it up nicely, “…lawmakers tend to listen to industry groups, which warn of job losses and higher costs if their demands aren’t met. These conversations happen inside the cloister of legislative process, shielded from scrutiny. If what business wants doesn’t put health or safety first — and it often doesn’t — politicians try to meet the demand by adding provisions to much larger legislative vehicles, where they may be impossible to dislodge, if they are even discovered at all.” HuffingtonPost.com
If these new regulations are enacted, then the motoring public can expect more tractor trailer crashes on our highways. Drivers will be sleepier and their rigs will be heavier and longer, among other issues. These are not changes that promote public safety, but instead promote trucking profits. If you want to be heard on this critical issue, contact your congressional representative and United States Senators.