Lobbyists Push to Loosen Regulations on Big Rigs

Truck AccidentLarge truck accidents account for an estimated 4,000 deaths in the United States each year, and result in approximately 85,000 injuries. Fatalities involving big rigs have risen by 17 percent since 2009, and injuries have increased by about 28 percent. As startling as these statistics are, many individuals would expect members of congress to push for tighter safety regulations. Unfortunately, however, that isn’t the case. Many members, in fact, are actually pushing for looser restrictions in the trucking industry, which could make sharing the road with big rigs even more dangerous.

The proposals, which would allow younger drivers, significantly larger, heavier trucks, and longer workweeks, represent a wish list for the trucking industry. While supporters of the proposals argue that they would actually increase road safety because fewer trucks would be on the road, critics insist that the looser regulations are geared more toward enriching the industry itself, not improving public safety. Truck safety advocates, in fact, are dismayed over the trucking industry’s efforts to achieve what they describe as dangerous policy changes.

Proposed Changes Sought by the Trucking Industry

Unfortunately, recent months have seen Congress implement more lax regulations for the trucking industry, and more changes, it appears, are in the works.

  • Lowering the minimum driving age for truckers who are traveling state to state from the mandatory 21 to 18- putting younger, less experienced drivers behind the wheel. While 49 states already allow drivers as young as 18 to operate large trucks within state borders, studies show that younger drivers are involved in more crashes than older, more experienced drivers. Advocates for the trucking industry claim that allowing for younger drivers will help curb the shortage of drivers in the industry.
  • Allowing trucks to haul up to two trailers measuring up to 33 feet each in length- which is approximately the equivalent of an eight story building flipped on its side. Currently, 39 states prohibit hauling two trailers of this size.
  • Increasing the top allowable weight for fully loaded trucks from 80,000 pounds to 91,000 pounds. Supporters say that the proposal will improve safety because the heavier trucks will be required to have an additional axle and extra brakes.
  • Suspending a regulation that requires truck drivers to take a 34 hour rest break over two nights after completing a 70 hour workweek. The new regulations will allow truckers to work up to 82 hours over eight days.
  • Removing trucking firms’ safety ratings from the internet. Supporters claim that the scores are not accurate anyway, because many big rigs are only inspected infrequently.
  • Halting revisions to a 30 year old policy that regulates minimum insurance requirements for big rigs. Since 1985, large trucks have been required to carry at least $750,000 in liability insurance. While safety advocates claim that this number is no longer high enough, the director of regulatory affairs for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association insists that most truck accidents result in costs of less than $750,000, so there is no need to raise the minimum requirement.

According to Jackie Gillan, who is the president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, implementing these more lax regulations will result in “overweight, oversized trucks being driven by overworked, underage truck drivers that are inadequately insured.” Sean McNally, a spokesman for the American Trucking Associations, begs to differ, however. He claims that the proposals will improve safety, not degrade it. According to McNally, larger sized trucks would eliminate big rig trips by approximately 6.6 million, and reduce miles traveled by an estimated 1.3 billion. He claims that fewer trips and less miles traveled will mean fewer large truck accidents, and states that the new regulations could in fact reduce big rig wrecks by approximately 900 per year.

In addition to the trucking industry’s desire to make regulations more lax, the trucking industry has been trumping highway safety for years. Safety devices that are now standard in most passenger vehicles, like anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control, are rarely adopted by the trucking industry. In fact, a mere 3 percent of class 8 trucks have any type of collision avoidance technology, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that an alarming 14 percent of truck drivers don’t even wear a seat belt on long haul trips. The industry’s refusal to adopt increased safety procedures is not just dangerous for those in passenger vehicles, but to drivers of the big rigs as well.

While much of the resistance to increased safety regulations is likely due to the industry’s focus on their bottom line, and many claim that added regulations will only cut into their profits and raise rates for consumers, the true cost of failing to implement tighter safety regulations could equal human lives.

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