By Tanya Snyder, December 9, 2014
Truck crashes killed almost 4,000 people in 2012. Sen. Susan Collins
wants to suspend a safety rule aimed at reducing that number.
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
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
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
“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.”