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.