As no long-term transportation bill has been approved by the House, Congress will need to take some action before the three-month extension to fund highway maintenance and construction ends at the end of October, writes Dave Zweifel for The Cap Times. Either that, he adds, or the highway fund will have no money. In addition, Zweifel notes, the one-year appropriations bill funding federal transportation programs has to be acted on by October 1. The House has passed such a bill, but the Senate has not debated it yet.
The problem with the two bills proposed thus far, Zweifel writes, is that too many legislators are cooperating with what the American Trucking Association wants, and that spells disaster for road safety. An article in The New York Times, by Howard Abramson, reports: “More people will be killed in traffic accidents involving large trucks this year than have died in all of the domestic commercial airline crashes over the past 45 years, if past trends hold true.”
In the last several months, Congress has moved in the direction of reversing safety laws that had been mandated by federal regulators, Abramson writes. For example, Congress has taken steps to let truck drivers work longer hours (82 hours a week, as opposed to the current 70 hours over eight days), and to suspend a rule requiring the drivers to take a 34-hour rest break to restart their work week, Abramson writes. Congress also added provisions to allow longer truck-and-trailer combinations and heavier contents and to require those states with stricter length and weight requirements to follow new, less strict federal rules, Zweifel writes. Congress also seeks to lower the minimum age for drivers of large trucks that travel between states from 21 to 18, Abramson reports.
Insurance companies have historically considered the higher risks of teenage drivers in their rates. Can you imagine the threat to highway safety by turning 80,000-pound rigs over to them? The trucking industry claims that there’s a shortage of drivers and this would help alleviate that. [James] Hoffa [president of Teamsters Union] counters that if the trucking firms paid better, they’d attract more drivers without having to resort to employing 18-year-olds.
Congress has been pushing for the aforementioned changes that benefit the trucking industry—an industry that has opposed such safety improvements as airbags, electronic stability control, and anti-lock brakes. This technology has helped to reduce fatalities in car accidents, Abramson writes. Fatalities due to truck-involved crashes have increased four years in a row, with a total of 3,964 in 2013 (the most recent year with available data), Abramson writes. He adds that the victims of truck accidents are car drivers as well as truck drivers and passengers.
The trucking industry says it opposes safety rule changes because they would cost more money, hurting profits and raising rates for shippers and thus consumers, Abramson writes. However, stronger safety standards would save trucking companies money because of lower insurance rates and damage claims. “And since trucking generates more than $700 billion a year in revenue, according to the trucking association, a small increase in safety costs would not put a large financial strain on carriers,” Abramson writes. He notes that congress needs to emphasize to all involved that safety must be a higher priority than “penny-pinching.”
Trucking industry publications had scathing remarks towards Mr. Abramson’s article, accusing him of falsehoods, both implied and http://www.rcgauto.com/intentional. Misleading statistics for accidents do not differentiate between the cases when truckers were at fault or the general public. Wendy Parker writes: “I think we should take a moment to thank Mr. Abramson for outlining pretty much every single half-truth about the trucking industry re-hashed and doled out to the general public in one concise place.” Majority of people have no idea how mandated hours-of-service work nor how trucks are regulated; but they can take an active part in making the roads safer when sharing them with large commercial vehicles & auto transporters.