Most big-rig trucks travel the interstate highways in California because it saves drivers time and hassle. Most, but not all.
We’ve all been on Highway 101, enjoying the view, when a tractor-trailer comes roaring up and flies by in the fast lane. It can be unnerving if you’re not paying close attention to your driving.
It can also be very dangerous, which is why we seek answers to the federal Transportation Department’s notion of relaxing the rules dictating how many consecutive hours a big-rig driver can stay on the road.
The mandated “hours-of-service” rules state that a driver can spend 11 hours on the road, then must pull over and not drive again for the next 10 hours. Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, an alliance of insurance companies and consumer, public-health and safety groups, has said the current hours-of-service requirements are “exceedingly liberal, in our estimation.”
The trucking industry thinks otherwise, and the Trump administration has made rolling back regulatory oversight a top priority. At least a dozen transportation-safety rules were repealed or put on put on hold in President Trump’s first year in office.
The question is, why? The obvious answer is money. If there is any business in which time is money, it’s the trucking industry, which is responsible for hauling and delivering most of the goods American consumers want and need.
The administration’s primary argument for relaxing the hours-of-service rules is to give the trucking industry more flexibility, allowing drivers to set their own hours in accordance with the need to make a profit.
We understand that perspective, and can certainly appreciate the need to make money to stay in business. But there are compelling reasons for keeping the current hours-of-service rules intact. Here are just a few:
Highway crashes are expected to become the fifth-leading cause of death in the United States within a decade, and big-rig-involved crashes are a major factor in the number of people killed.
About two-thirds of the fatalities in a given year are passengers in regular-sized motor vehicles, and nearly three-quarters of those deaths involved a tractor-trailer. There are about 15.5 million trucks on the road, and 2 million tractor-trailers out of a total of 200 million licensed drivers. Those numbers point to tractor-trailers as some of the most dangerous vehicles on the road.
Here’s why: The average weight of a motor vehicle is about 3,000 pounds, while a typical tractor-trailer can weigh 80,000 pounds. If a vehicle and a tractor-trailer are driving side-by-side at 40 mph and start braking at the exactly same time, the tractor-trailer will travel nearly 50 feet further than a passenger car before coming to a complete stop. Not a fair fight.
The federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said 27 percent of trucks were found to have brake problems, almost a fifth of big-rig drivers are unfamiliar with the route, and a small percentage are either tired, ill, driving aggressively, under the influence or all of the above.
In other words, if strict hours-of-service rules are repealed, the real cost will not be in loss of profits for trucking companies, but in human lives lost. There is just too much statistical evidence to ignore that fact.
We understand President Trump’s enthusiasm for strengthening the U.S. economy, because we share that enthusiasm — but not at the expense of the lives of Americans. A properly functioning society just does not work that way.