Hastily-Debated Collins Measure Could Put More Tired Truckers on the Road

Truck crashes killed almost 4,000 people in 2012. Sen. Susan Collins wants to suspend a safety rule aimed at reducing that number. Screenshot from ##http://6abc.com/traffic/police-truck-driver-fell-asleep-prior-to-crash-on-i-95-in-del/144318/##6ABC##
Truck crashes killed almost 4,000 people in 2012. Sen. Susan Collins wants to suspend a safety rule aimed at reducing that number. Screenshot from ##http://6abc.com/traffic/police-truck-driver-fell-asleep-prior-to-crash-on-i-95-in-del/144318/##6ABC##

It just wouldn’t be Congress if we weren’t trying to debate substantive policy changes, with drastic implications for public safety, with a government shutdown deadline fast approaching.

As Congress tries to wrap up the hideously-named “cromnibus” (continuing resolution (CR) + omnibus) spending bill for the rest of FY 2015 by Thursday, one provision is attracting a heated debate over road safety.

An amendment introduced over the summer by Maine Senator Susan Collins would repeal elements of a 2011 U.S. DOT rule requiring truck drivers to get adequate rest. The two basic pillars of that hours-of-service rule are: 1) drivers have to take a 30-minute rest break within the first eight hours of their shift, and, more contentiously, 2) drivers have to take a 34-hour “restart” period once every seven days. That 34-hour rest period must include two consecutive overnights between 1:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. According to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, “The net effect of these changes was to reduce the average maximum week a driver could work from 82 hours to 70 hours.”

The Collins amendment would maintain the 34-hour rest mandate but would remove the requirement that it include two overnights, and it would allow drivers to take more than one restart in a seven-day period, thereby starting a new 70-hour workweek.

Truck crashes caused 3,921 deaths in 2012 [PDF]. Bloomberg News reports that the fatal-crash rate increased each year from 2009 through 2012, reversing a five-year trend.

Sec. Foxx noted in his blog post that most truckers “behave responsibly and drive well within reasonable limits,” but that the rules guard against those “who are tempted to push the limits.”

“Additionally, new research available on the subject demonstrated that long work hours, without sufficient recovery time, lead to reduced sleep and chronic fatigue,” Foxx wrote. “That fatigue leads drivers to have slower reaction times and a reduced ability to assess situations quickly.” He added that drivers often can’t accurately assess their own fatigue.

Sen. Susan Collins wants to ease some requirements aimed at ensuring that truckers are well-rested.
Sen. Susan Collins wants to ease some requirements aimed at ensuring that truckers are well-rested.

Foxx condemned the Collins amendment, saying, “The best science tells us that’s unsafe and will put lives at risk.”

Anne Ferro, head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, says the hours-of-service rule would save an estimated 19 lives and prevent approximately 1,400 crashes and 560 injuries each year.

Opponents of the restart rule are generally concerned with industry efficiency and profits. Trucking industry groups are lined up against it, though Joan Claybrook, former president of Public Citizen and current chair of Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH), cautions that truckers and the trucking industry might be seeing things differently.

“Sen. Collins wants to roll back current work protections and instead allow trucking industry executives to force truck drivers to work more than 80 hours a week,” she said Monday at a news conference at the U.S. Capitol. “This is inhumane and a formula for tired truckers wiping out innocent families in preventable truck crashes. This means big bucks to the trucking companies who are exempt from federal requirements to pay overtime to their drivers.”

Some also make hay that a trucker ending a shift at 2 a.m. would then need to wait 51 hours before getting back on the road, to meet the 1:00-to-5:00 requirement.

Some just object to the nanny-state nature of the regulation. “I just, I don’t know, I viscerally have an objection to the federal government going so far as to prescribe when people should sleep,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA).

There is one reasonable, and safety-related, justification for opposing the safety rules. Keeping some trucks off the road in the middle of the night, when the roads are empty, could mean more trucks during more congested daytime hours — when people are taking their kids to school, opponents are quick to add. Restrictions on overnight driving could also, theoretically, prevent nighttime deliveries, which have been proposed as a solution to freight congestion in cities.

On the other hand, no one is proposing that truckers stop driving at night altogether — just that their 34-hour rest period maximize nighttime sleep.

The 34-hour restart rule has already survived a court challenge.

Foxx isn’t the only one raising a ruckus about the provisions. Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) sent a letter to outgoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid yesterday, saying, “We are extremely disappointed that despite our grave concerns, this matter is moving forward through the appropriations process, rather than with extensive study and debate. This issue is far too important to have been altered outside of the committee of jurisdiction and without debate by the Senate.”

The case of comedian Tracy Morgan, still struggling to recover from a catastrophic crash with a tired trucker last June, hangs over the proceedings. The Collins amendment was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee two days before that crash.

Other victims have made strong statements about the possible repeal of the safety rule. “It’s outrageous that the senator from my home state would try to attach this language to a must-pass spending bill,” said Daphne Izer, founder of Parents Against Tired Truckers (PATT), whose 17-year-old son was killed in 1993, along with three of his friends, by a Walmart truck driver who fell asleep behind the wheel. She’s joined by Ron Wood, whose mother Betsy, sister Lisa, and her three children — aged 4 years to 6 weeks — were killed in Texas when a tractor-trailer driver reportedly fell asleep behind the wheel and crossed a median into oncoming traffic.

According to Politico, the repeal, if included in the spending bill, would be difficult to remove, considering the tight timeline and urgency of passing the bill to avoid a government shutdown Thursday. On the other hand, since it’s being attached to a bill that expires September 30, 2015, the rule suspension would only be in effect for nine and a half months.

  • onesidedstoriesdontbelonghere

    The current rule has had the unintended effect of making truckers more tired, causing them under certain situations, to wake up at 4:00 am, proving the 1-5 am “prime sleeping time” utterly useless. Also, it is entirely possible to have 3 1/2 days completely off duty and not get a reset because you haven’t had enough hours since the last one…. yet you’re as rested as humanly possible.
    Talk to truckers. Get the facts of their reality. It’s not about profits, nor do they come anywhere near working 80 hours a week. Even a full 70 is highly unlikely.
    If they want to fix trucking, go after shippers, receivers, and trucking companies, not the drivers. They’re just doing what they’re told to do. The pressure can be immense.

  • onesidedstoriesdontbelonghere

    And one more thing…. The Tracy Morgan crash happened with the current “lifesaving” rules in place.
    Also, there is a catch to the 34 restart that the media largely ignores: you don’t have to get one every week. In fact, you can go weeks on end without ever resetting you 70 hour week.
    It is called recap. Each day, you can gain back whatever hours you were on duty 8 days ago. That can go on endlessly. Talk about tiring…

  • Buster Hyman

    Please please please put more tired drivers on the road so we can have more lawsuits which we specialize in so we can make lots more $$$$$$$$$$$ a lawyer

  • Alex Brideau III

    To me it seems that long-haul trucking is over-utilized and is a fairly inefficient way of transporting a load from between distant points A and B. Freight rail is more efficient, causes fewer deaths, and when using container-based shipping, can allow short-haul trucking to provide first/last-mile (actually more like 20 miles, I would think) service. If we have strict limits on how much air and rail crews must sleep and rest, why soften the rules for the trucking industry?

  • LJ

    “Truck crashes caused 3,921 deaths in 2012” Let’s break that down into AT FAULT. Of the 3,921 deaths:
    697 deaths to truck drivers
    2,843 deaths in other vehicles (car, light truck, motorcycle)
    381 deaths non-occupants (pedestrians, bicyclist)

    FMCSA’s
    Large Truck and Bus
    Crash Facts
    for three recent years show the
    following percentages of vehicles with cited
    driver factors in 6,131 car-truck fatal crashes:

    2007: 85% of cars, 26% of trucks

    2008: 85% of cars, 26% of trucks
    •Large Truck & Bus Crash Facts:
    Fatality crashes involving large trucks – % of Drivers cited:
    2009: 81% of cars, 22% of trucks
    2008: 85% of cars, 26% of trucks
    2007: 85% of cars, 26% of trucks

    Nature of Driver Error in Car-Truck crashes:
    Driver Fatigue: 7% truck drivers, 15% car drivers
    Driver Illness: 1% truck drivers, 8% car drivers
    Alcohol related: 0.3% truck drivers, 9% car drivers
    Drug related: 0.4% truck drivers, 7% car drivers
    Aggressive driving: 5% truck drivers, 9% car drivers
    Asleep: 1% truck drivers, 9% car drivers

    Without 2012 data readily available, one cannot accurately say a specific # of deaths were at the fault of the truck driver. Based on 2007-2009 history, if just 75% of car drivers were at fault in 2012 for the fatalities involving large trucks, that means:
    711 accidents were the fault of truck drivers;
    2,132 accidents were caused by the other vehicle

    Regulating when a driver can drive is not the answer to preventing fatality crashes. Better education/training/restrictions for Other Vehicle drivers is where the need is greatest.

  • Lars Ulrich

    Unfortunately freight rail shipping rates are skyrocketing. The railroads themselves are at full capacity and raking in the profits. And yet they have not yet hit the tipping point of demand to increase their capacity, so they won’t as long as they’re humming along making the $$$.

    They’re certainly no longer interested in public sector resources to build more rail.

    As to long haul trucking, correct that it is inefficient. Biggest problem is actually labor shortage. Few drivers want the stress of a long haul away from family.

    However, wonder if declining gas prices may bring trucking costs down enough to respur demand.

    And declining trucking costs vs. increasing rail costs seems to be where were headed.

    However, they will quietly but gladly take tax payer resources for upgrade projects they could very well afford to do themselves.

  • People get fatigue all the time. Of course it gets worse when sleep is deprived. Personally I drive when I want in accordance with the law. That is If I want to drive at night I will, and is when I do most of my driving. But I must say allot of drivers are sleeping during this time. And is probably why we now have individuals characterizing our period of time, because of the overall measure. Most drivers work better in the daytime. I know when I first started in the 80’s I enjoyed the view, but seemingly as time passed and I found my self working all types I hardly shook off the night time as or day time as a hazard. Imagine that.

    9:42 A.M. E.S.T. Taking my break now. Of course time is of the essence. 12/11/2014

  • Kurt Keilhofer

    Since you have in your article that “drivers have to take a 34-hour “restart”” you obviously have no idea what you are talking about. The 34 hour restart is OPTIONAL, at the driver’s discretion. The rule as it was revised was discriminatory to drivers that primarily worked nights, and there was no justification on how a 34 hour break was restorative once, but not if it occurred again within a 168 hour period.

  • jaxboy3436

    Otr truck drivers work week is not a week it is actually 8 days

  • jaxboy3436

    OTR Truck drivers work week is not a week. It’s 8 days. That in itself is misleading. The 30 min break rule also has caused me to work longer hours doing less. It is possible to take two 30 min breaks and still not be able to work a full day because a third 30 min break is required by then it’s day over

  • Nathanael

    Actually, your stats say that regulating when a driver can drive (for both car and truck drivers) is the answer to preventing fatal crashes. Fatigue is the #1 cause of crashes for both truck and car drivers! Read those stats you posted!

  • Nathanael

    Long-haul trucking basically should not exist. If it’s really urgent it goes by air; otherwise it should go by rail most of the distance.

    Unfortunately, the federal government and state governments massively subsidize trucking companies, with free roads and ridiculous rules which allow fatigued truck drivers on the road — but the rail companies are expected to pay for the tracks and are subject to very stringent rules.

  • Joe trucker

    FREE roads to truckers? You better check your facts buddy. Truckers pay hidious tax rates on every gallon of diesel. They pay a road use tax of $550 each year to the irs. They pay grossly higher toll rates than cars. And registration fees and permits put billions of dollars into state budgets. It’s cars that are getting the free ride on our highways…especially the tree hugging prius owners getting 50 mpg. The taxes they pay on their gasoline use couldn’t start the paving machine. But there they are in the way of people trying to be responsible and get somewhere. If you don’t mind empty shelves in grocery stores and no black friday sales, then go with rail, because it would take more than a week to get your perishables shipped across country on the rails and then it’d be rotten.

  • Michael Klatsky

    Most perishables are shipped by rail and in the NY/NJ area, are transferred to truck at the Croxton intermodal yard or Expressrail in Elizabeth.

  • Michael Klatsky

    ” Keeping some trucks off the road in the middle of the night, when the roads are empty, could mean more trucks during more congested daytime hours — when people are taking their kids to school, opponents are quick to add.”

    “BUT THINK OF THE CHILDREN!”

    YES. Think of the children:

    Why are kids being taken to school on roads with trucks in the first place? Shouldn’t they be walking, they are kids after all.

  • Mike C

    Tanya Snyder, To call your little picture of the truck crash and description of the law to reduce it “uninformed” would be a kindness compared to the things I could say.

    The 1am to 5 am rules makes the roads less safe. This regulation passed without a study by know nothing unelected regulators with no common sense is beyond idiotic.

    Use your head lady. Don’t just regurgitate what you have been told by idiots. Ask yourself this common sense question. How does making more truckers drive during the day who would normally drive at night make things less safe when doing so just causes more traffic during the day. Eliminating this rule isn’t going to add to how many hours a trucker can drive in an 8 day period. He will still have to do a 3 hour reset or sit until he recaps hours from 8 days ago once he 4 aches his 70.

    Likewise, not allowing more than one reset in a 168 hour period is equally unproven to cause less crashes. If someone is taking more than one 34 hour reset a week, the are getting more time off than required.

    The 30 minute rule just makes my day longer. I’m still going to drive my 11 hours. If I’m already tired, extending me day a half hour won’t make me less tired.

    This is what happens when you have uninformed people who are isolated from the industry the in charge of regulating.

    Please don’t write stories about things you know nothing about.

    Mike

  • Mike C

    Wow you’re retarded. Free roads? I guess since you live on welfare and are Obamatard you have never paid road use taxes.

    The guy you replied to is equally moronic. You don’t have a train going to every address, and many people have LTL loads. Just enjoy your uninformed bubble and try not to speak when the working people who support your stupid ass are talking. You are definitely part of the 47%.I

  • common_cents

    Well, considering the amount of damage trucks cause to our roadways and pollution they contribute, why shouldn’t they pay more? An 18-wheel truck creates the same amount of damage as 9,600 passenger vehicles, that’s quite an expense, why should everyone else have to foot the bill?

    “But there they are in the way of people trying to be responsible and get somewhere.”

    Really? Are you insinuating that truck drivers are more entitled to use roadways than everyone else? What about the skilled professionals that design, engineer, manufacture, assemble, finance and market all of the goods trucks haul? How about the consumers that bridge the supply and demand gap? Without all of them, truck drivers wouldn’t even have a job, they rely on other people, people in those cars who are “in the way”.

    There’s no reason truck drivers should be boasting self importance or superiority over any other link in the merchandising and production chain, everyone plays a vital role in the economy. That includes paying for your destruction of everyone’s roads. If you don’t want to pay higher fees and taxes, find a different job and buy a prius.

  • Alex Brideau III

    Who said rail goes to every address? If that’s your takeaway from my comment, please re-read. Your name-calling does not speak well of you and did not address my opinion that trucking could be better utilized than it is now and that trucking sleep/rest rules should be held to a similar standard as the air and rail industries.

  • I drove 18-wheel trucks for over 30 years and I never caused a fatality or an injury over my 3 million miles doing so, though a fair amount of luck and driving skill was involved in my success too. I did however have several minor accidents that were exclusively the fault of the car drivers involved, such as the three times that cars and a 6-wheel truck tried to pass me in a five foot wide bicycle lane in Chicago and didn’t make it, or the several times that my truck was rear-ended by people not paying enough attention while they were driving to notice a stopped truck in-time to safely stop behind it.

    Anyhow, over most of my career the 10-hours of driving, 15-hours on-duty, and 8 hours off-duty rule was in-effect that forced a stop to driving after 70 hours of total on-duty and driving was reached in an 8-day period, and during these 20+ years there was no restart provision. Once you ran out of hours you sat and waited for additional hours to catch-up. Even so, trucking industry fatalities were close to 6,000 in 1979, my first year of trucking.

    Both the original hours-of-service law and the first incarnation of the newer 11 hours of driving, 14 hours on-duty, and 10 hours off-duty hours of service law included the ability to split the required off-duty time into two periods of not less than 2 hours for the shorter period, but in their infinite wisdom the DOT took the split break provision away when it redid the new hours of service law a year after the change.

    Now we are again worried about tired truck drivers and if you want to know the truth, the most sleep that I ever got when I was tired in more than 30 years of 18-wheel experience was when the split break was still legal just after the change to 11 hours of driving from 10 hours of driving, and the least sleep that I ever got when I was tired was after the split break was taken away.

    The split break, both under the old 10-hour driving law and under the new 11-hour driving law had made it possible to avoid driving in afternoon rush hour when I was tired by taking a couple hour nap, and then continuing my driving day after traffic had died down. I attribute the split break to likely saving at least one if not several bad accidents caused by tired cars drivers heading home from work and the effect of my own long work day.

    But neither Public Citizen, Parents Against Tired Truckers, the FMCSA, USDOT, nor even Congress is interested in the opinion of a 3-million mile safe driver on how I avoided so many accidents in my 30-year career either.

    I personally would dump the 34-hour restart in-favor of some other provision to get drivers home after a long workweek, a provision that would not allow more than a few hour violation of the previous 70-hour/8-day rule, and only after another 10 hours off-duty too. I could see allowing a driver an extra 4 hours of driving over 70 hours in 8 days in order to get home only after another 10 hours off-duty, only if they then had at least 36-40 hours straight off-duty afterward too.

    I don’t share the concern over driving between 1:00 to 5:00 AM either, noting that I myself always was a night owl that preferred driving some during that period of time when our highways were generally far less crowded too. (Here it is 3:15 AM and I am still up on my computer too).

    If a driver is serving many big cities starting earlier than 5:00 AM is required if one is going to beat morning rush traffic too. What happens if you don’t get to the George Washington Bridge, or outbound on the Kennedy Expressway until 5:30 AM? Very unproductive and very aggressive dead-stopped traffic for 10 or 20 miles is the result, and there isn’t anywhere to park a substantial number of trucks within a half-hour of either obstacle either.

    That said, I do not favor any 34-hour restart provision that allows truck drivers substantially more driving hours than the original 70 hours combined between driving and on-duty in 8-day rule in an attempt to earn more revenue at the expense of driver off-duty time.

    The 30-minute break rule existed when I started driving semis and at that time it was required after just 5 hours of driving, so I personally don’t see such virile opposition to such a rule either, but if our government and the driving public wants to allow truckers to sleep when they are tired without ruining the length of their driving day I personally recommend reinstating some form of split break that allows drivers to split their 10 hours of off-duty time into two periods, with the shorter period of no shorter than 2 hours, and the longer period of no shorter than 7 hours too.

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