I have spent more than 22 years in public safety. I was the second administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the agency charged with preventing and reducing crashes involving large trucks and buses. I care about safety, and I understand firsthand the tragic consequences of traffic crashes on our nation’s highways.
If there is one thing we can all agree on, it’s that safety is our top concern. That’s why I’m perplexed by the unfair and inaccurate statements being made by those who oppose a provision recently approved by Congress to temporarily suspend two new provisions in what’s called the “34-hour restart rule.” Let me be clear: This provision, sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins, debated in the open, and approved 21 to 9 by the Senate Appropriations Committee, will make the road safer.
Special interest groups have deliberately misled Congress and the public by distorting the safety record of the industry. For example, they have selectively chosen a narrow period (e.g., 2009-12), rather than the long term, to paint a negative picture of trucking. In fact, over the past decade (2003-12, the most recent year available), truck-involved fatalities declined 22 percent, and the truck involved fatality rate (accounting for increased mileage exposure) dropped 37 percent.
However, in 2013, under political pressure, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration imposed changes to the law regulating the trucking industry. The trucking industry supports nearly all of the rules implemented in 2013, including the limits on daily driving and weekly work. The industry also supports the mandatory 30-minute rest break drivers must take during their shifts as well as the 10-hour mandatory off-duty period they must take after their shifts. Collins’ provision does not change these important rules one bit.
Collins’ provision simply addresses two specific restrictions that the most recent former head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration admits were implemented without proper study and that are hurting highway safety.
The practical effect of these restrictions is to push more truck traffic onto the highways at 5:01 a.m. — or when America’s commuters are hitting the road to go to work or when children are heading to school. 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 one-third less likely to be involved in a crash as one traveling between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. Temporarily suspending these changes, while keeping the remaining rules in place, in order to fully study the unintended effect of shifting more truck traffic to daylight hours, is a common-sense solution to this problem.
It’s easy, and extremely unfair, to portray this as an argument between the trucking industry and safety advocates. During my tenure and even since, I have found that the trucking industry — and safety advocates — believe that every crash on our highways, regardless of cause, is a tragedy. Truck drivers have families and loved ones who they want to get safely home to, as well.
We can, and should, work together toward a goal of reducing crashes — but we must use good data and good facts. Public policy should not be based solely on emotion. The common-sense changes supported by Collins and her colleagues are good public policy driven by good data.
Annette M. Sandberg served as administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration from 2003-06. She is CEO of TransSafe Consulting LLC, which provides transportation, public safety and security consulting services.