A December 3rd article in The New York Times discusses the influence of the trucking industry and lobby in Washington, DC. Recent loosening of rules concerning the trucking industry has renewed debate about the soundness of the current administration’s push to deregulate industry. Truck accidents involving passenger cars continue to be a major problem, causing injury and death on our roadways. Part of the discussion justifying the deregulation measures cites the steadying rate of accidents and the small decline in deaths; yet, will the newly-lifted rules make this situation better or worse? Many of the regulations that had hitherto been in place concerned requirements for driver experience and the duration of shifts. It is difficult to imagine that allowing inexperienced drivers to work overly-long shifts will do anything to alleviate the dangers posed by the big rigs.
Even more troublesome is evidence that the decision to lift trucking regulations was evidently influenced by the trucking lobby and by the fact that major players in the trucking industry have been given positions in transportation administration after 2000. In other words, the profitability of the industry has clearly taken precedence over the safety of motorists. The New York Times’ article explains that top positions in the Department of Transportation and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, among other legislative and advisory groups, are held by persons formerly involved in trucking and in the trucking industry’s lobby. The article further asserts that the industry’s lobby has provided over $14 million dollars in campaign funds to Republicans, with further donations and fees totaling $37 million dollars since 2000. It would be difficult to argue that these appointments and funds have not had an effect on legislation.
Of course, regulations of any kind are useless if they are not enforced, and the article’s interview with a truck driver reveals common practices of altering records to make it appear that drivers are not exceeding the shift caps. The driver also explains that truckers are frequently required to work longer and more frequent shifts, (while doctoring their logs), therefore losing adequate time between shifts for rest, or face being fired or fined. Some new regulations diminish the duration and, some would say, the rigor of new-driver training. Agencies and observers outside the industry, including federal judges and congresspersons of both parties, maintain that the majority of accidents have driver tiredness or driver inexperience as the main culprits, while within the industry, passenger car drivers are blamed. It would seem that by most unbiased accounts truck drivers are underpaid, under-trained and overworked and are themselves in danger just as they pose a danger to other drivers.
It appears that he trucking industry’s influence in Washington has trumped the hand of those who seek to protect workers and passenger-car drivers.