Safety Groups Respond to U.S. DOT IG Rubber Stamping Study on Truck Driver Hours of Service Safety Protections

In 2015, 4,067 people were killed in large truck crashes in the United States

Safety Groups Respond to U.S. DOT IG Rubber Stamping Study on Truck Driver Hours of Service Safety Protections

Study Created with Pre-Determined Outcome of Failure

WASHINGTON, D.C. –Late last week, the Office of the Inspector General (IG) of the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) sent a letter to Congress regarding a study of safety reforms to the truck driver hours of service (HOS) rules. By sending this letter, the IG essentially gives the imprimatur of this well-respected office to a study that was set up for failure at the onset and will ultimately result in the continuation of the widespread industry problem of truck driver fatigue.  Parameters of the study and what it was charged with finding were widely attributed to being crafted by corporate trucking interests in an effort to undue safety reforms which took effect in 2013.  While the IG may have signed off that the study was carried out as mandated by Congress, the IG did not assess the underlying data used.  Rather, the IG simply “rubber stamped” that the “junk science” study checked off all the boxes required by Congress when it created the study.

As part of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations bill, corporate trucking interests and their friends in Congress inserted legislative language that suspended enforcement of the 2013 HOS reforms until the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) completed further study on the effectiveness of the provisions.  Concerned that the study would not produce results favorable to their agenda, these same interests inserted additional language into the FY 2016 THUD bill which raised the bar on what the study had to find. This backroom industry rewrite all but guaranteed the preordained outcome that was realized today.  These policy provisions were inserted to a funding bill behind closed doors without any public input. Further, they belie decades of irrefutable data that shows that driver fatigue is a serious safety problem within the trucking industry.  “When I began advocating for truck safety after a truck driver fell asleep while driving and killed my son Jeff, I never thought I would still be fighting on the issue of fatigue more than two decades later,” said Daphne Izer, Co-Founder of Parents Against Tired Truckers (PATT), “Truck drivers should not be forced to drive and work such grueling schedules, and the public should not be subjected to the risk that tired truckers pose to all road users.”

The study, while yet to be made available for public review, could have only examined 15 months of data as the Obama reforms went into effect in July of 2013 and were suspended at the behest of the certain segments of the trucking industry in December of 2014.  The fact that the study was fatally flawed from the start and reached such a dubious conclusion is totally unsurprising. “This study does nothing to shed light on the serious problem of truck driver fatigue,” said Jackie Gillan, President of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.  “But, it does shed light on the power of special trucking interests to run to their friends in Congress and repeal important health and safety rules.  Sadly, the U.S. DOT IG has become yet another political pawn in this tortured process.”

Common sense and real world experience clearly show that truck driver fatigue is a serious and pervasive safety problem, no matter how much special trucking interests wish to believe otherwise. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has repeatedly cited fatigue as a major contributor to truck crashes and included reducing fatigue related crashes on the 2017-18 Most Wanted List of safety changes.  In addition, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine has warned that drowsy driving can have the same consequences as driving while under the influence of drugs and alcohol.  “Since 2009, truck crashes have shot up by 45 percent, resulting in a 20 percent increase in truck crash fatalities and a 57 percent increase in truck crash injuries,” stated John Lannen, Executive Director of the Truck Safety Coalition. “Instead of focusing on requiring crash avoidance technologies in large trucks that would have actually reduced crashes, FMCSA was forced to spend time and money conducting an ill-conceived study based on flawed data.”

While high profile crashes like the one that killed comedian James McNair and seriously injured Tracy Morgan grab national headlines, fatigue-related crashes happen to families all over the country every day.  Until leaders in Congress are willing to face the real facts about truck driver fatigue, far too many Americans will continue to be needlessly killed by tired truckers.

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Automatic Emergency Braking – Prime Time for Regulation

Written by Jacqueline Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. This is one in a series of periodic guest columns by industry thought leaders.

Truck crashes are a serious public health and safety problem. Each year on average, 4,000 people are killed in large-truck crashes. That is equivalent to the death toll of a major airplane crash every other week of the year. Another 100,000 people are injured annually. The economic cost to society from commercial motor vehicle crashes exceeds $100 billion annually.

Alarmingly, we have experienced a 15 percent increase in fatalities and a staggering 50 percent rise in the number of people injured in large-truck crashes since 2009. With total tonnage of truck freight shipments predicted to increase as much as 35 percent by 2040, the urgent need to make trucks safer for all motorists has never been greater.

Fortunately, we already have solutions to significantly improve safety and prevent needless crashes. One common sense safety measure that would curb frequent and fatal truck crashes is the use of automatic emergency braking, or AEB, systems. Yet, in a column published by Trucks.com, truck driver Shelley Uvanile-Hesch argued that AEB technology needs more research before requiring it for new trucks. We respectfully disagree.

The federal agency responsible for regulating this issue, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, has studied rear-end crashes, which are the primary target of automatic braking technology, and estimated that the death and injury toll is significant. Large trucks are the striking vehicle in approximately 32,000 crashes resulting in 300 deaths and more than 15,000 injuries annually. The agency further estimates that with automatic braking systems tuned to react to both moving and stopped lead vehicles, nearly 60 percent of fatalities and injuries in these types of collisions could be prevented.

Automatic braking technology has been offered on large trucks since at least 2006, making the technology nearly a decade old. Manufacturers and suppliers continue to improve the technology and expand its capabilities. In fact, NHTSA recently released a report on a field study of crash avoidance systems, or CAS, finding that in over 3 million miles of data, no rear-end crashes of the type that CAS are designed to prevent occurred from subject vehicles. It also found that while improvements to the systems can be made, they generally work as intended.

Yet Ms. Uvanile-Hesch’s experience does highlight an issue for concern. While the technology exists to put effective crash avoidance systems in trucks, we must make sure that it works properly. That’s why we need a minimum federal safety standard to ensure that the technology currently in use is reliable and meets basic requisites of functionality. In fact, some motor carriers already are paying to install this technology on new trucks even though there are no guarantees that it will perform as advertised.

That needs to change.

My organization, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety — together with other consumer, public health and safety groups as well as truck crash victims and survivors — has petitioned NHTSA to act. Our petition requests that the agency require the use of forward collision avoidance and mitigation braking, or F-CAM, systems on all new large trucks and buses with a minimum gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 pounds.

F-CAM technology uses radar and sensors to first alert the driver and then to apply the brakes when a crash is imminent. F-CAM systems employ a Forward Collision Warning, or FCW, to inform a driver when his or her vehicle gets too close to another vehicle that is stopped or traveling more slowly ahead. This gives the driver a chance to brake in time. When the system determines that a crash is about to occur, a Collision Mitigation Braking, or CMB, system automatically applies the brakes to prevent the crash or reduce its severity.

NHTSA estimates that current generation F-CAM systems can prevent over 2,500 crashes each year and that future systems could prevent more than 6,300 crashes annually.

Our petition urges the establishment of performance requirements. Other critical safety systems in cars and trucks must meet minimum federal standards, including brakes, seat belts, air bags, tires, headlamps and electronic stability control. In the absence of a federal standard, each manufacturer and supplier can design its system to function differently and, in some cases, ineffectively. All drivers should be afforded the assurance that the automatic braking technology will perform at the most critical moments in the driving task. These standards would also include requirements for durability and other aspects of performance. Without a regulation, design and performance choices made by manufacturers and suppliers may not result in sufficient braking capability to guarantee safety and reliability.

Furthermore, our petition focused on automatic braking systems that would only operate in emergencies, and would not interfere with advanced cruise control or other types of systems. That addresses some of the problems Ms. Uvanile-Hesch said she encountered driving her big rig. Automatic braking systems are intended to intervene only when a collision is imminent and to take control of braking only when a driver has failed to apply the brakes or perform any evasive maneuver.

Purchasing a new car or truck involves numerous decisions by the prospective buyer, including cost and safety features. AEB is a crash avoidance technology that will prevent crashes and will result in saving lives and saving money. This important lifesaving technology should be standard equipment on all new trucks and buses and should be required to meet minimum federal performance requirements. It is the responsibility of the federal government to ensure that safety systems on planes, trains, trucks and cars work well and work every time. Less-than-ideal performance of current automatic braking systems actually sounds the alarm on the urgent need for NHTSA to establish uniform safety standards for AEB.

Editor’s note: Jacqueline Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, has devoted her career to advancing highway, auto, and motor carrier safety. She has held senior positions in government and public-interest organizations. 

Link: https://www.trucks.com/2016/06/23/automatic-emergency-braking-ready/

Congress Is Using Zika To Weaken Truck Safety

WASHINGTON — Truck driver Dana Logan tried on Wednesday to recount a crash that decapitated two fathers and two children, hoping to convince Congress to stop weakening rules that require truckers to get rest.

She couldn’t do it. A dozen years after the fatigued driver of another truck fell asleep and drove into an SUV stuck in traffic behind her rig on a Texas highway, Logan was still too devastated to finish talking about it.

She drives trucks with her husband, Tim, as a team. That June day in 2004 near Sulphur Springs, the other driver fell asleep and rammed the SUV, pushing it under the carriage of Logan’s trailer, shearing off the top half of the vehicle with its four helpless passengers inside.

Logan got as far as recalling how her husband rushed to help the other trucker.

“When Tim tried the get the injured driver out of the truck, he [the other driver] asked him, ‘Did I hit something?’ Those were his last words before he died,” Logan told reporters in a conference call aimed at legislation moving in Congress this week.

Sobbing, Logan had to stop. She asked her husband to finish.

What the Logans and other safety advocates are worried about are measures that would allow truck drivers to work more than 80 hours a week, tacked onto to separate appropriations bills in the House and the Senate.

In the Senate, a measure that allows 73 hours of driving and an additional 8.5 hours on related work each week was added to a massive spending measure that will fund transportation, housing and military construction projects, as well as the Veterans Administration. Funding for Zika prevention has also been added to that bill, making it very likely to pass.

In the House, measures were added to the transportation and housing appropriations bill under consideration in the committee that set similar rest rules, reverting to regulations originally set in the Bush administration that were repeatedly challenged and thrown out in lawsuits.

Both bills would prevent the Obama administration from enforcing a regulation that briefly went into effect in 2013 that effectively capped truck drivers’ working hours at 70 a week, and ensured they could have two nights off in a row. That rule was blocked by a rider in a 2014 spending bill, which had to pass to avert a government shutdown.

The new inserted policy provisions represent a trend over the last three years of trucking industry interests using must-pass spending bills to win regulatory concessions that are opposed by most safety advocates and likely could not pass as normal stand-alone bills. In this case, not only do the bills fund major parts of the government, they provide cash to fight Zika.

“There’s not been any congressional hearings on any of these proposals,” said Jackie Gillian, the president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. “The trucking industry doesn’t want to have hearings, they don’t want to hear from truck drivers like Dana Logan. They don’t want to hear from victims.

“They know that if they do have testimony and they have the experts up there, the people affected, that they would see how illogical and insane these proposals are,” Gillian said.

Those trucking interests see the complaints of safety advocates as illogical.

On the rest requirements, known as hours-of-service rules, the industry believes advocates are inventing problems.

“There’s this claim by these anti-truck groups that drivers are abusing it. There’s no data showing that,” said Dave Osieki, who is in charge of public advocacy at the American Trucking Associations.

Osieki argued that it’s nearly impossible for drivers to string together their hours to hit the 80-plus hour maximums that are theoretically allowed under the rules that the trucking provisions in both spending bills would preserve. “We just don’t see a need for it,” he said of the tougher Obama administration standard with two nights off.

Osieki added that he’s seen no evidence that hours of service rules improve safety.

“Show me a link between compliance or noncompliance of the hours of service rules, and there is none,” he said.

Nevertheless, police who enforce the highway safety laws do see a connection.

One is Illinois Trooper Douglas Balder. Balder was nearly burned alive when a truck driver completely ignored the rules, and drove into the back of Balder’s patrol car. Balder, also a military veteran, spent months in rehab to get back on the beat. He doesn’t want Congress rolling back safety rules, and joined Wednesday’s conference call to say so.

“I continue to take to the road every day to do my part to protect the people and ensure the law is upheld,” Balder said. “I cannot do my job alone. I urge Congress to take necessary action to ensure our safety, not to put us further at risk.”

The White House has threatened to veto the Senate spending bill, in part because of the rest rule rollback. But the prospect of a veto is less likely with the Zika measure attached.

Three senators, Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) hoped to offer an amendment in debate Thursday to restore the Obama rest regulations. It was unclear if they would get the chance amid all the back-and-forth around Zika and other pressing matters surrounding the larger legislation. Democrats tried to remove Zika funding from the bill on Wednesday, but were blocked.

Link to Article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/congress-zika-truck-safety_us_573cfc0ae4b0646cbeec1b89

Senate Prepares To Make Truck Safety Even Worse, Advocates Warn

The industry has given lawmakers language that will set 73-hour maximum work weeks for drivers.

04/19/2016 Michael McAuliff Senior Congressional Reporter, The Huffington Post
WASHINGTON — Safety advocates are crying foul over yet another change to trucking safety rules that the industry is trying to slide though Congress with no hearings, no public evaluation and no scientific study.

The move comes just days after The Huffington Post revealed that large trucking industry groups have spent the last several years quietly circumventing normal legislative procedures to win safety rule concessions — even as truck crashes have been on the rise.

Normally, transportation policy is decided by the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. But failing to make progress there, the trucking industry seems to have persuaded the Appropriations Committee to add its policy provisions to spending bills.

In this case, according to advocates who have been briefed about the bill, the industry wrote a provision that will place some sort of cap on truckers’ work, keeping either driving or working hours to 73 per week.

Exactly what the cap — which is about 30 hours more than most Americans work each week — would mean is not completely clear. Representatives for Democratic and Republican leaders on the committee declined to make the language available to HuffPost, saying it will be public after the full committee considers the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development spending bill for 2017 this Thursday.

“They are writing law in a spending bill. They are completely bypassing the Commerce Committee,” said Jackie Gillian, the president Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

Gillian says the measure appears to have been written by the American Trucking Associations, a industry lobbying group. If the move succeeds, if could permanently change rest rules for increasingly beleaguered truck drivers — with no public input, no scientific evaluation and no discussion with regulators.

“It is like the worse of all possible worlds,” Gillian said. “The idea that the ATA has come in and written into law what they want done — I mean, can you imagine if this were the Federal Aviation Administration?”

The ATA did not say whether it wrote the new measure, though it offered comment on it and seemed to know what language it contained.

Ironically, the new provision is being dropped into a spending bill in an effort to correct confusion over another measure that was added through the appropriations committee, also without hearings or vetting.

The ATA first managed to get Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) to write legislation in 2014 to temporarily suspend rest rules that took effect in July 2013, which required drivers to get two nights of sleep and capped their working hours at 70 per week.

Collins’ one-year suspension also required a study of making drivers get two nights of sleep in a row as part of their weekly mandated 34-hour break, known as a restart. But the industry was unsatisfied. It won further modifications in 2015 for this year’s spending bill that made the study more complicated, and said that if the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration did not write new rules based on the study, the rules would revert to the old ones.

The problem was the language didn’t clarify which older rules it was referring to, meaning regulators could be turning back to mandates from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration that capped drivers’ hours at 60 a week — much more rest than under the modern system.

An ATA spokesman said the new 73-hour cap is meant to address this confusion.

“What the Senate language appears to do is retain the ability of drivers to reset their work weeks by taking an extended 34-hour off-duty period, with the recognition they are still limited to 73 hours of work (both driving and other work time) in seven calendar days,” Sean McNally said in an emailed comment.

“We appreciate the recognition by the Senate THUD subcommittee that the legislative drafting error from 2016 needs to be fixed,” he added.

McNally downplayed advocates’ concerns about over-tried truckers.

“ATA also knows that while professional truck drivers do not work wildly inflated weekly work hours that anti-truck groups claim, we understand the Subcommittee’s sensitivity to claims a handful of drivers might abuse the restart rule to work long hours in a week,” McNally said. “We look forward to working with members in both chambers and on both sides of the aisle to ensure that professional truck drivers continue to have the opportunity to get extended off-duty rest periods that reset their work week.”

The issue seems to have left Democratic Senators in a difficult position. While they would prefer the 2013 rules that gave truckers two nights of sleep, they also fear they don’t have the votes to block the 73-hour week.

Safety advocates told HuffPost that the ATA had tried to attach a 75-hour week to the Commerce Committee’s FAA bill that passed the Senate Thursday, but the measure was blocked.

Senate staff also declined to give the safety advocates copies of the new measure’s language, which would reveal specifically what the impact would be.

Gillian believed the reason is because the implications will not be good.

“They won’t release the sub-committee draft because they know what’s in there, and they know safety groups will go nuts,” Gillian said.

“This is their [the trucking industry’s] most bold and anti-safety measure yet,” she added.

Link to Article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/truck-safety-rules_us_57166a82e4b0018f9cbb3d28