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TSC Letter to Secretary Foxx on House THUD Appropriations Bill

May 11, 2015

The Honorable Anthony Foxx
Secretary, U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave., SE
Washington, DC 20590

Dear Secretary Foxx:
We commend your commitment to highway and auto safety as well as the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) FY 2016 budget request to address serious safety problems facing our nation. You have repeatedly stated in public meetings and congressional hearings that while our nation has made important progress in reducing our highway mortality toll, 32,719 deaths in 2013 are still unacceptable. Even one death is too many for the families and friends of a loved one needlessly killed. As family members who have lost our loved ones in large truck crashes, and other concerned North Carolina citizens, we completely agree and support your position.

Unfortunately, while overall motor vehicle fatalities have decreased the past five years, the same cannot be said about truck crash fatalities. In fact, there has been a serious and unabated rise in truck crash deaths and injuries. From 2009 to 2013, there was a 17 percent increase in truck crash deaths and a 28 percent increase in injuries. Yet, in Congress, right now, there is a full-scale assault on truck safety by special trucking interests and their allies. We haven’t seen anything this egregious, with its blatant disregard for safety, in the past 25 years.

Rollbacks to lifesaving truck safety laws and regulations are already included in the DOT Appropriations bill being considered on Wednesday in the House Committee on Appropriations. We expect the trucking industry will also try to include these anti-truck safety measures in the transportation spending bill in the U.S. Senate. If these measures are enacted into law, the public will be sharing the roads with overweight and oversized trucks driven by overtired and overworked truck drivers. There is no question that these provisions will result in more deaths, more injuries, more destruction and more damage to our nation’s already crumbling infrastructure.
Public opinion polls consistently show strong opposition to bigger, heavier, and longer trucks as well as increasing the federal limits on the working and driving hours of truck drivers.

The overall government FY 2015 spending bill enacted by Congress last December included several anti-truck safety provisions that became law when President Obama signed H.R. 83 (P. L. 113-235). Most notably, an amendment sponsored by Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) allows truck drivers to increase their weekly working and driving hours from 70 to 82, and eliminates their required “weekend” off. DOT’s own data shows that alarmingly high levels of truck drivers are driving while fatigued, and nearly half have admitted to falling asleep behind the wheel.

The FY 2016 DOT House Appropriations bill currently contains a trucking industry “wish list” of safety repeals that put trucking productivity ahead of public safety. These include the FedEx proposal to overturn the law in 39 states and force every state to allow “Double 33s” on federal and local roads. These are extra-long trucks exceeding 84 feet in length pulling two 33-foot-long trailers. Furthermore, the bill continues the “Tired Truckers” pilot program putting truck drivers and the public at unacceptable risk of death and injury due to driver fatigue, a well-documented and widespread problem in the trucking industry. There are also provisions allowing specific states to increase maximum truck weights by 50 percent or more above current federal limits and to increase truck length up to 100 feet or more.

The House Appropriations bill also contains a provision that would remove the funding for the rulemaking on minimum insurance for motor carriers. Set over 35 years ago at $750,000, the minimum insurance for motor carriers has not been raised since. All too many times this amount is insufficient for all the deaths, injuries and property damage a truck crash can leave in its wake. This appropriations bill, by banning any insurance increases, only shifts responsibility for these crashes onto the American public. When minimum insurance is not high enough to cover long-term health care for a crash survivor, or to pay for bridge repairs after a crash, taxpayers make up the difference. That survivor will become dependent on social security and/or Medicare, instead of the carrier who caused the damage. The bridge or infrastructure impacted will get fixed, but only when a city or state foots the bill. We can no longer allow dangerous trucking companies to shift responsibility for their crashes onto the backs of taxpayers.

As our nation’s top transportation official, you are in the position to carry through on your commitment to safety and stop this assault on truck safety by recommending that the President veto any spending bill that includes these safety repeals and rollbacks. Over the past couple years we have witnessed in horror some tragic but preventable truck crashes. Last year, in Orland, California, a FedEx double-trailer truck crashed into a bus transporting high school students and chaperones on a college exploratory trip, killing 10 people and injuring at least 30 more. According to DOT’s website, there have been nearly 2,600 FedEx crashes which have killed almost 90 people in the past two years. Now the company is lobbying for even bigger and even longer trucks on our streets and roads, and have publicly admitted it is to advance productivity and not safety.

In New Jersey, comedian Tracy Morgan was seriously injured and James McNair was killed in a truck crash involving a WalMart driver, who appears to have dozed off and did not stop in a work zone despite traffic ahead. And recently, five Georgia nursing students were tragically killed and two others were injured, when their vehicles were mowed down by a runaway truck. The driver did not even slow down when approaching stopped traffic ahead.

We hope we can count on your leadership and commitment to safety to ensure that this Administration does not sign into law any bill that will jeopardize safety in any way. There can be no moral or political justification for allowing a bill to become law that will result in more crashes, more deaths, more injuries and more grieving families.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Tierney
Kernersville, NC
Board Member, CRASH
Member, Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee (MCSAC)
Daughter of James Mooney
Killed in a truck crash 9/20/83

Jackie Novak
Edneyville, NC
Volunteer, Truck Safety Coalition
Mother of Charles “Chuck” Novak
Killed in a truck crash 10/24/10

Marianne and Jerry Karth
Rocky Mount, NC
Volunteers, Truck Safety Coalition
Parents of AnnaLeah and Mary Karth
Killed in a truck crash 5/4/13

Sherri Hager
Statesville, NC
Volunteer, Truck Safety Coalition

J. Kent Williams
Greensboro, NC
Volunteer, Truck Safety Coalition

Marvin and Linda Scherl
Germanton, NC
Volunteers, Truck Safety Coalition