The Bangor Daily News recently printed an inaccurate story as well as a negative column criticizing my efforts to improve the safety of Maine roads. The story criticized my previous success in amending federal law to allow the heaviest trucks, which were already allowed on state roads, to travel on our federal interstates instead of being forced onto downtown streets and country roads. Maine’s transportation experts, law enforcement groups, school superintendents, PTAs and municipal officials applauded this change because they know that it is safer to keep heavy trucks on our highways rather than on narrow streets, passing by schools, hospitals and downtown stores. Yet my actions were slammed by Washington-based so-called “safety advocates” and by some of their representatives in Maine.
Now these same lobbyists who opposed my efforts in 2011 are blasting my recent success in suspending two new federal regulations governing truck drivers that force more truck traffic onto our nation’s roads during the morning rush hour, the riskiest time for crashes, while the regulations are evaluated for what federal officials have conceded are unanticipated effects.
Truck drivers are governed by regulations known as “Hours of Service,” which contain common-sense restrictions on the number of hours that drivers can be behind the wheel, require a mandatory 30-minute rest break during shifts, and mandate 10 hours off between shifts, all of which I support because they help make our roads safer. The regulations were, however, altered last year in ways that have caused many transportation experts to contend that they make our roads less safe. Federal data show that the accident rate is far higher for commercial drivers during the early-morning rush hour, when children are heading to school and commuters to work, than during the night time. As the nation’s former motor carrier safety administrator Annette Sandberg wrote in a June 2014 letter, “These early-morning hours are the riskiest time of day for trucks to be on the road: A truck driving between midnight and 3 a.m. is a third less likely to be involved in a crash as one traveling between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m.”
The federal administrator responsible for the new regs has admitted that they were not fully evaluated for safety and crash reduction benefits, which is why a study is warranted. The American Transportation Research Institute documented that truck drivers reported “increased fatigue levels, decreased quality of life and negative pay impacts” as a result of the rules change.
It is telling that the Washington “safety advocates” did not criticize U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, who cosponsored a bill to permanently suspend the two regulatory changes implemented last year. It is important to note that, contrary to the information circulated by some advocates, my provision would not alter the limitation on the number of hours that a truck driver can be behind the wheel; it would not change the number of hours required for the driver to be off between shifts; and it would not affect the requirement for a 30-minute rest break during driving shifts.
Finally, let me address the absurd allegation that I somehow “sneaked” the provisions into the funding bill in the dead of night. On June 5, the Senate Appropriations Committee held a public session on the transportation appropriations bill at which my amendment was fully debated and adopted by a bipartisan vote of 21 to 9. On June 19, my proposal was debated at length on the Senate floor.
From 2003 to 2012, truck-involved highway fatalities plummeted 22 percent even as trucks drove an additional 50 billion miles. The federal regulations for the trucking industry must be developed in an impartial, carefully studied manner because they help to keep the nation’s truck drivers and the traveling public safe. Let’s stick to the facts so that we can adopt the right policies to enhance safety.
Susan Collins, a Republican, represents Maine in the U.S. Senate.