After a long period of continued improvement in highway safety, specifically related to the numbers of truck accidents on America’s roadways, transportation officials are seeing a reverse in that trend. In 2009, the number of deaths in accidents involving large commercial trucks was 3,380, the lowest number since federal officials started keeping statistics. Just four years later, nearly 4,000 people died in truck-related accidents. Furthermore, the actual number of crashes has also gone up steadily since 2009, from 2,983 to 3,541.
Officials attribute the increased fatality and accident rates to a number of factors. First, the economy has rebounded, so there are many more trucks and truck drivers on the road. More importantly, though, say many safety critics, the trucking lobby has been very successful over the last few years in getting Congress to loosen many safety regulations.
Safety officials say that, when the economy went south in 2008, many trucking companies saw profits drop dramatically and began to urge Congress to make changes to enhance profits, most at the cost of certain safety measures. Trucking industry lobbyists have been aggressively asking lawmakers to:
- Raise the federal 80,000 pound cargo limit
- Increase the permitted length of double trailers, from 28 feet to 33 feet
- Change the regulations governing amount of time on the road, so that truckers could go from 70 to 82 hours per week
- Allow trucking companies to hire drivers under the age of 21
Trucking industry lobbyists have already been successful in blocking some safety measures. For example, in July, 2013, a new regulation was put in place, requiring that truck drivers take mandatory breaks that included no time on the road between 1 am and 5 am for two consecutive nights. Studies show that the most restful and regenerative sleep is at night. Trucking industry lobbyists argued that requiring breaks at night would put more drivers on the road during the day, increasing safety risks. Safety experts pointed out, though, that the majority of truck accidents take place at night.
The trucking industry successfully convinced a Maine legislator to include a provision in a bill to prevent the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration from enforcing the new regulation. When that bill was defeated, the legislator slipped the provision into a budget bill, where it was passed.
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