Every year, Congress must pass legislation about funding government activity and detail how tax dollars will be alloted to cover the budgets of federal agencies like the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). It’s a bill that has to be passed into law because it is the law that literally pays the bills.
Right now, the Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations Bill is moving through the United States Senate. Doesn’t sound very eventful, does it? However, if you delve deeper into the workings behind how the fiscal legislation gets finalized and passed, you discover it’s a law that everyone understands has to be nailed down and approved in order for these agencies to continue operating, including the lobbyists for the trucking companies and the huge U.S. trucking industry.
Once again, the trucking industry is focused upon the pending fiscal legislation as a means to help its own profit margins. How? By pressuring to have language inserted into the fiscal legislation that will cut back on safety laws, which cost the trucking companies money.
Less regulation, more revenue.
This year, safety advocates around the country are fighting hard to prevent proposed language from being inserted in this 2017 THUD Appropriations Bill that will essentially re-write the Hours of Service (HOS) rules. We’ve monitored the big fight over HOS Rule legislation for several years — there have been major battles both in Congress and in the federal courts waged by the trucking industry to try and block these safety regulations.
Safety Groups Write Senate Committee Warning of Truck Crash Dangers
Last week, a joint letter was sent by over a dozen safety advocates to those Senators involved in the Senate Appropriations Bill process. Co-signers included the Teamsters Union (i.e., International Brotherhood of Teamsters); the safety organization Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, and law enforcement group the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association.
They wrote not only to ask that the lawmakers refuse to lessen the protections of current HOS rules but that they consider carefully the pro-trucking company items that have already been inserted into the pending 2017 fiscal legislation.
“For three years now well-financed and well-connected trucking lobbyists have drafted legislation that has repealed the safety improvements of the Obama Administration’s hours of service rule for truck drivers. Congress has already made significant changes to the rule to accommodate industry, but the industry lobbyists are back again and this time with the most serious attack yet. Not content to just stop the Obama Rule from being enforced, trucking interests are now writing a brand new regulation behind closed doors. There has never been any congressional hearing, any federal agency review, or any public input. The pattern is always the same – keep it under wraps so no one has a chance to see it and slip it quietly into must pass bills so no one has a chance to stop it.”
Truck Driver Fatigue and Falling Asleep at the Wheel Truck Crashes
The reason for having HOS Regulations is to insure that large truck drivers have time to rest and recover from a hard day’s work without being forced by their employers to drive after they are fatigued, sleepy, or exhausted. Truck driver fatigue is known as being a major cause of fatal truck accidents, and the HOS regulations work to protect against truck crashes by mandating rest breaks for truck drivers after they have driven a certain number of hours.
For details on trucker fatigue and truck crashes, read our past posts including “Commercial Truck Drivers, Fatigue, and the 2014 Naperville Illinois Truck Crash.”
The danger of fatal accidents on American roads involving a large truck (big rig, semi, tractor trailer, 18-wheeler) is serious. Research is revealing that the risk of a fatal truck crash is rising in our country.
- Large truck crash fatalities has been rising each year since 2010. The number of deaths in large truck accidents rose 9% in 2010; 3% in 2011 and 4 % in 2012.
- Since 2009, there has been a jump in big rig semi truck crash fatalities of 17%.
- Meanwhile, the number of accident fatalities in all other motor vehicles during the same time period FELL by 3%.
- In non-fatal large truck accidents, the number of injuries since 2009 has skyrocketed by 28% while the number of injuries in all other forms of traffic accidents has risen only 4%.
Senate Appropriations Committee Okays Bill Despite Safety Warnings
Writing the Senators didn’t work. The Senate Committee okayed the fiscal legislation despite the warnings of all these safety experts — and all the statistics that show we’ve got a real problem with a rising danger of fatal truck accidents in the United States.
What This Means: Daphne Izer Explains
Rather than rant on what this means to all of us in Indiana and Illinois, consider the response issued by Daphne Izer, Founder of Parents Against Tired Truckers (PATT), which she released on April 21, 2016.
Mrs. Izer is a parent who lost her child in a fatal truck crash caused by a trucker who fell asleep at the wheel and she is now a recognized national advocate and expert on truck safety. Mrs. Izer was honored as a “Champion of Change” by the White House in 2014.
In Response to Senate Appropriations Committee Passing Industry-Written Provision to Rewrite Laws Affecting Truck Drivers’ Hours of Service
April 21, 2016
For a third year now, the Senate Appropriations Committee has passed a spending bill that was co-authored by a select few trucking industry lobbyists. The industry-penned provision will increase the amount of hours truck drivers can work in a week and deprive truckers of a real weekend off. This is wrong on so many levels. Unfortunately, under the leadership of Senator Susan Collins, who chairs the subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD), this practice is business as usual.
It is outrageous that segments of the trucking industry have been able to use must-pass spending bills as legislative vehicles to drive their agendas that make public safety take a back seat. What is even worse is that the process by which industry lobbyists write and insert their provisions is often highly secretive. This has allowed moneyed interests to make changes to laws governing trucking without so much as a congressional hearing, any federal agency review, or any public input.
Lawmakers should treat safety interests with the same importance as corporate interests, but this has not been the case with this appropriations subcommittee. For instance, I have been advocating for more than 20 years for laws requiring large trucks to have electronic logging devices (ELDs) and heavy vehicle speed limiters. Yet, it took nearly two decades for a Final Rule on ELDs, and the Final Rule for speed limiters was just delayed for the 28th time since being initiated in 2006. When trucking industry lobbyists realized they miswrote language, however, it only took them several weeks to secure an immediate change to the law from their friend in the Senate.
This egregious exploitation of the appropriations process is an affront to truck safety and to the memory of the thousands of Americans, including my son Jeff, who were needlessly killed in large truck crashes. With the one year anniversary of the truck crash that killed the five Georgia Southern University nursing students falling one day after this vote, I want to convey my sincerest sympathy to the families of Emily Clark, Catherine “McKay” Pittman, Caitlyn N. Baggett, Abbie L. Deloach, and Morgan J. Bass. Their deaths should serve as grave reminder that lawmakers need to do much more to combat the role that issues like fatigue play in causing truck crashes, including reversing the provision that was just passed.
It is time for Senator Collins to stop holding this “back door” open for industry insiders to have uninhibited access to write rules and laws that are in their best interest. Instead, she should look at the facts, listen to general public, and use a transparent process.