Two floor amendments in the FY 2015 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill will “weaken highway safety standards, while putting fatigued drivers on the road in bigger, heavier trucks, James Hoffa, general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, wrote in a letter to Congress on Monday.
Hoffa wrote to the House of Representatives to voice his disapproval of amendments to delay some provisions in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s hours-of-service rules and to increase the size of double-wide tractor trailers from 28 feet to 33 feet.
By doing away with the 34-hour restart in the hours-of-service rules for one year, he wrote, carrier officials would be able to force drivers onto the road for even longer lengths of time. It would also hurt drivers if Congress puts a year-long delay on the provision that mandates that drivers have two consecutive days of rest between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m.
“Some motor carriers push their drivers to squeeze every possible hour out of them that they can — 60 to 70 hours or more in a week, depending on their operation — leaving a driver only 34 hours, 14 hours shy of a weekend, to restart their close and get back on the road for another 60 to 70 hours of driving time,” he wrote.
Hoffa proposed that Congress waits until the Department of Transportation thoroughly studies driver fatigue, with the help of electronic logging devices, before any changes are made.
“The tragic accident that claimed the life of comedian James McNair and injured many others including actor Tracy Morgan, could have been prevented had Walmart’s driver been properly rested rather than reportedly going 24 hours without a break,” Hoffa said in a statement about the letter. “While the notoriety of the victims in this accident pushed truck safety to the front page, more than 4,000 lives are claimed each year on our highways as a result of accidents involving trailer trucks. We must ensure that hours of service rules provide enough rest for drivers so cumulative fatigue doesn’t put the driving public at risk.”
Hoffa said that changing the trailer length “undermines” an on-going DOT study examining the impact that larger trucks would have on safety. He also noted that Congress’ move doesn’t allow the National Freight Advisory Committee to work on its recommendations, to be included in a 10-year national freight policy, beforehand. Finally, he pointed to 39 states that currently prohibit 33-foot, double-wide trailers.
“The Teamsters Union is serious about protecting the safety of our members and their families,” Hoffa said, adding that the union will take note of how each representative votes on the issues at hand.
The Teamsters union is in line with the large trucking industry groups. Monday afternoon, Bill Graves, president and chief executive officer of American Trucking Associations, released a statement re-emphasizing the organization's opinion on the hours-of-service rules.
"Good public policy and good regulations stem from good research and good data. This is why we support a suspension of the controversial and unjustified restrictions on use of the hours-of-service restart provision, which alters driver sleep patterns and puts more trucks on the road during more risky daylight hours," he said. "It is also why we support mandatory use of electronic logging devices to track drivers’ compliance with the hours of service requirements. In addition, it is why we support more aggressive enforcement of traffic laws to combat distracted and aggressive driving as well as restricting the speeds of large trucks to 65 mph with mandatory electronic speed governors."