The Appalling Rollback of Truck Safety Provisions in the DRIVE Act

A battle is brewing over the Senate transportation bill’s approach to truck safety. Though large trucks are involved in crashes that kill nearly 4,000 people a year — a number that has grown by 17 percent over the past five years — the DRIVE Act actually rolls back what few protections exist.

Cartoon from ## Times##
Via Cap Times

The bill would allow longer and heavier tractor-trailers. Trucking companies would be able to double up two 33-foot trailers behind one truck, even in states that have banned such big loads.

The bill would also cut down on mandated rest periods for truckers, a long-simmering question. Right now, truckers have to rest for at least 34 hours between work weeks, with that 34-hour break including two overnights and the work week not including more than 70 hours of driving. The Senate bill would allow truckers to work 82 hours a week with less rest.

Perhaps most appalling, the DRIVE Act would let teenagers drive commercial trucks.

Yes, the bill would allow 18-year-olds to drive commercial trucks, despite the elevated crash risk of teenage drivers. A raft of legal provisions and insurance standards work to protect the public from notoriously unsafe teen drivers, who pose a danger to society even driving a VW bug, much less a big rig with two 33-foot trailers.

Safety groups and newspaper editorial pages are slamming these proposals as concessions to the trucking lobby that completely disregard public safety. Even a retired executive from the American Trucking Associations, an industry lobbying group, was recently moved to speak out against the changes, noting in the New York Times that while heavy trucks account for less than 10 percent of total miles traveled, they are involved in one in eight of all fatal crashes and about one-quarter of all fatal crashes in work zones.

Trucking companies are continually looking to pinch pennies at the expense of public safety, and this bill lets them. Collision-avoidance technology, increasingly standard in passenger vehicles, is still a rarity in heavy trucks. Trucking companies are reluctant to spend the money for simple vehicle technologies that save lives. As of now, nothing in the DRIVE Act would insist that they do, unless an amendment by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) is accepted.

That amendment is one of 16 endorsed by a letter sent to senators last month by the nonprofit Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety [PDF]. Most of the amendments deal with trucks; nearly all of them were introduced by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ed Markey (D-MA), or Booker. These measures would make industry safety records public, reduce trucker distractions, increase insurance mandates, and more. Without these simple fixes, the DRIVE Act could directly lead to a higher body count on our streets.

21 thoughts on The Appalling Rollback of Truck Safety Provisions in the DRIVE Act

  1. Is the trucking industry going to pay higher fees to offset the damage that larger vehicles cause to our roadways and highways? “Engineers estimate that a fully loaded truck–a five-axle rig weighing 80,000 pounds, the interstate maximum– causes more damage to a highway than 5,000 cars.” And the effect of heavy vehicles on roadways goes up exponentially as weights increase.

  2. Which will entail, inter alia, overturning Citizens United and enacting real campaign finance reform.

  3. Wouldn’t letting teenagers drive huge trucks cause the companies’ insurance to skyrocket? Or do they have a way around this?

  4. Teenagers are allowed to drive intra-state (inside their own state) already. Does crossing a line change their qualifications? In 70% of car/semi accidents the fault for the crash is due to the car driver actions, according to FMSCA. The only true way to measure fatal accident rates are the amount of deaths per 100 million miles traveled. Using that statistic the fatal accident rates have been cut in half over the last 20 years. I do not appreciate the lie of only a few regulations. While it is impossible go count them all, I would guess I have somewhere around 10,000 regulations to follow between the federal laws in the USA and Canada PLUS the state and provincial laws. As for double 33 ft trailers, they already use double 28 for trailers. You are adding 10 ft to the total length of the unit but no extra weight. Increasing the length by 10 feet means that for every three units increased in length decreases the need for one extra truck on the road. For your information last year I paid (with one truck) $33000 in fuel taxes, licensing fees, over dimensional permits and border crossing fees. The average car pays $200-$300 per year. So you need at least 3300 cars to equal what I pay.

  5. Interesting details, thanks. It sounds like the amount you pay is roughly proportional to the amount of pavement damage your truck would cause relative to a passenger car. I’m not sure that rest and age requirements, which have a lot of data to back them up, are the regs that should be rolled back though.

  6. This is a laundry lists of lies as per usual. Vilify the trucker. First the facts presented here are stretches of the truth. 2nd you want your junk at Walmart et al go find another way roger it to you. I strongly suggest the author fully investigate their facts before spilling their half truths to the unknowing public who simply believe everything they read, as is strongly evident by reading the stupid comments here. I’ll need the rest of the day and many hours of reference
    material to prove the author is freakin clueless in their so called facts. But it can and will be done, easily if push comes to shove, why don’t you followers actually do your own research to verify the filth spewed here before you jump on this idiot author’s bandwagon.

  7. “It sounds like the amount you pay is roughly proportional to the amount
    of pavement damage your truck would cause relative to a passenger car”

    Actually, I believe the heavy truck is still underpaying by a fair bit. But yes, the damage a heavy truck does is many, many times what a passenger vehicle does, and so they should be paying many, many times more in taxes and fees. Even more than they are now paying.

    Upshot is, there is a hefty taxpayer subsidy of the trucking business thanks to these taxes–which the trucking industry continually claims is too high, yet in reality is still far too low compared with the cost the trucking industry puts onto the roads and to society as a whole.

  8. “Teenagers are allowed to drive intra-state (inside their own state) already. Does crossing a line change their qualifications?”

    No, but it will make the very bad idea of teenage truck drivers far more common and raise the number and percentage of teenage truck drivers by a very substantial amount.

    The change we should be making is to ban teenage truck driver intra-state as well, but the federal government doesn’t have the power to do that. So, you do what you can.

  9. Double trailers are banned outright in New York State, and for good reason: our roads can’t handle them. Anything which overrides our local regulations is unacceptable.

  10. Research done. Everything Streetsblog wrote is correct. The industry is trying to get unsafe trucks on the road while overworking truckers. It’s an attack on safety.

  11. Since Department of Transportation published statistics put the truck at fault in approximately 20% of these 4000 fatalities, and even that 20% does not show how many of those trucks were already using current technology, that 4000 numbers is sensationalistic at best. In the 17% increase, that is not a general increase in deaths, fatalities involving cars have decreased while truck driver fatalities have increased. Additionally, this increase started and has consistently increased since 2009, when the FMCSA started moving forward with changes to trucking regulation. Since the 34 hour reset provision was changed in early 2015, there is no longer a two consecutive overnight provision. Teenagers are already allowed to drive commercial vehicles within their own state borders, and in fact can run just as many miles as an over the road truck as long as they stay within their state, but can’t run from Camden NJ across the river to Philadelphia which is a total of about 5 miles. So actually this op-ed is full of sensationalistic mis-information to try and scare the unknowing public into action to push the system to not change FMCSA regulation that is creating more safety risk than it is solving.

  12. The really funny part is they start by telling us truck crashes are up 17% over the last 5 years but they forget to mention that in the last 5 years trucking regulations have tightened more then the last 50 years combined.

    More propaganda from someone with an agenda.

  13. The trucking industry does pay significantly higher fees already. This includes drivers who in some states pay as much as 3 times the amount to renew their licenses.

    A base plate on a standard truck with a gross vehicle weight of 80000 pounds in Michigan is 2400 per year. That is for the truck only and does not include fuel taxes and other fees.

  14. Given that an 80,000 lb truck causes the same damage as 5000 vehicles, $2400 a year is nothing. Dividing that by 5000, that would be less than 50 cents a car in annual fees. And now the trucking industry wants to raise the weight limits so they can raise their profit margin? Well, time to raise the fees to something that makes some sense.

  15. The fees should be raised high enough so it no longer makes any economic sense for shippers to use trucks instead of rail for long distance freight, except for maybe the most super priority shipments. Long distance trucking has caused the maintenance costs of the highway system to skyrocket. Besides that, there really is no logical reason for so much freight to go by truck. The freight railroads can easily absorb more by adding tracks as needed, electrifying so trains get over the road faster, and cutting the delays at terminals. The government can help here by no longer levying real estate taxes on railway rights-of-way. That would stop railways from doing stupid things like removing tracks the second they’re no longer needed, only to perhaps have to relay a few years later when business picks up.

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