LISBON — As many of my fellow Mainers know, after my son Jeff was killed by a tired trucker in 1993, I founded Parents Against Tired Truckers and began advocating to make trucking safer.
In over two decades of educating the public and lawmakers about truck safety, I have also worked to ensure that regulations like maximum driving hours and mandated meal and rest breaks are implemented to improve work conditions for truckers and to prevent fatigue-related truck crashes.
The fact that a fatigued truck driver killed my son is not unique. One survey found that 65 percent of truck drivers reported being drowsy while driving and 48 percent admitted to having fallen asleep while driving. And according to the National Transportation Safety Board, fatigue is a probable cause, a contributing factor or finding in nearly 20 percent of their investigations between 2001 and 2012. Clearly, we should not be hindering the government’s efforts to set maximum hours and require rest breaks.
Instead, we should be looking at ways to change the industry culture, which promotes driving faster and farther, even if a driver is tired. Given that so many truck drivers are paid per mile, it is no wonder that the industry has created this culture, which ultimately rewards unsafe behavior.
However, there are clear signs that the industry must change its ways. Driver pay has effectively dropped by nearly a third since deregulation in the 1980s, and employment turnover rates constantly hover over 90 percent.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s National Survey of Long-Haul Truck Driver Health and Injury, nearly 75 percent of long-haul truck drivers received an unrealistically tight delivery schedule, and nearly 40 percent of long-haul truck drivers reported violating hours-of-service rules. This is a consequence of shippers, brokers and motor carrier management forgetting that drivers are not merely assets, and that crashes are not merely the cost of doing business.
The hours-of-service rules were put in place to cap the maximum amount of hours truck drivers can work to ensure that they are adequately rested and can safely operate their vehicles. Yet there are many people, including our members of Congress, who misunderstand this.
The sad truth is that there are truck drivers who routinely work over 80 hours per week, and do so without actual weekends off. This is wrong, unsafe and a result of the industry’s relentlessly rallying against hours-of-service rules and successfully convincing lawmakers to ratchet up the amount of time truck drivers are allowed to work.
It is unfortunate that U.S. Sen. Susan Collins is once again behind an industry-backed measure to weaken hours-of-service rules and embolden unsafe driving behavior that contributes to countless preventable truck crashes. And it is equally unfortunate that the senator has made a tradition out of pushing the trucking industry’s agenda to weaken hours-of-service rules through the appropriations process, which bypasses any public input.
If she really believes that this is something that will make trucking safer and be supported by most Americans, then she should have a hearing and listen to the 80 percent of the public who oppose legislative efforts to increase the number of hours that semi-truck drivers are allowed to work in a week – not just to industry lobbyists.
As chairwoman of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee, Collins knows that such policy changes have no place in a spending bill. As a bipartisan senator, she knows that there are proven methods that she could work with Democrats to enact, like crash avoidance technologies and adequate underride protections.
And as a fellow Mainer, she knows of the tragic loss experienced by people like me; like Christina Mahaney, whose 5-year-old son Liam was killed in 2011 when a truck driver spilled a load of logs into the family’s Jackman home, and like the countless other parents, children, siblings, spouses and friends – loss that could have been prevented by stronger truck safety laws.
Ultimately, our lawmakers have a duty to address the issue of truck driver fatigue and take action to prevent needless truck crash deaths and injuries. Increasing a truck driver’s workweek from 70 to 82 hours will definitely not solve this problem, but allowing truck drivers to have a real weekend off by requiring a 48-hour restart will.