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The Trucking Industry Is Killing This Nation and It’s Time for Congress to Act

The trucking industry has become one of the most dangerous industries in the entire country. In fact, if we continue on the road we’re on, more people will lose their lives in accident’s involving large trucks than all of the people who have died in every domestic commercial airline crash over the past 45 years. In spite of this reality, Congress has taken no action and instead has made life hard on the regulators of the industry that the government originally empowered to deal with these specific kinds of issues.

Not only has Congress refused to take steps to make the industry safer, it has rolled back safety improvements ordered by federal regulators. Specifically, Congress suspended a rule that truck drivers have to take a 34-hour rest break over two nights in order to restart their work week thus allowing truck drivers to work 82 hours a week (an increase from the current 70 hours over eight days).

Furthermore, Congress discouraged the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration from investing in wireless technology designed to improve the monitoring of drivers and their vehicles. In direct opposition to public opinion, Congress also demonstrated that it’s in favor of allowing longer and heavier trucks despite the obvious dangers. Perhaps most alarming is that Congress is even pushing to lower the minimum age for drivers of large trucks that are allowed to travel from state to state from 21 to 18.

From 2009 to 2013 the death toll in truck related accidents rose by 17 percent. This steady increase over the course of four years has resulted in 3,964 deaths in 2013 alone. 584 of these people were truck drivers or passengers in the trucks.

Over the course of this same period, there was a 3 percent drop in deaths related to car accidents largely due to technological improvements like airbags, electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes. The trucking industry, however, has resisted these safety devices. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the annual cost to the economy of truck and bus crashes to be $99 billion.

There are more changes that will make the industry even more dangerous in the pending highway bill but due to differences between the House and Senate the bill is stalled. Congress has actually failed to implement a comprehensive highway funding bill for many years.

The most notable recent trucking accident was the one that left comedian Tracy Morgan in critical condition and took the life of his friend and fellow comedian James McNair (known as Jimmy Mack). The accident also injured eight others on the New Jersey Turnpike. These kinds of horrific accidents will undoubtedly continue to happen as long as Congress refuses to take action.

This crash is a perfect example of why Congress needs to move fast and implement stricter policies for the trucking industry. The driver who caused this accident was driving a modern 18-wheeler truck and had been on duty for over 13 hours. As of now, federal rules allow a 14-hour workday. Due to these misguided regulations, the truck driver was very tired and slow to react and was unable to stop in time and slammed into Morgan’s van.

These large trucks are significantly more dangerous than smaller ones. According to federal data, the N.T.S.B. recently reported that while heavy trucks account for less than 10 percent of total miles traveled in the United States during 2013, they were still involved in about a quarter of all fatal accidents.

The majority of all truck accidents involve trucks rear-ending vehicles that have stopped or slowed because of accidents or roadwork. There is now technology available to prevent or lessen the impact of these kinds of accidents to all of the manufacturers of heavy trucks in North America. According to safety advocates, only about 3 percent of the Class 8 trucks (the heaviest ones including most tractor-trailers) are equipped with any version of this collision-avoidance technology.

Today almost all automakers include or at least offer anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, airbags and collision-avoidance devices in their vehicles. These technologies are included in the majority of the heavy trucks that are sold in Europe yet the trucking industry in the United has avoided making these improvements because of the cost.

Unfortunately, this logic is completely backwards. The amount of money it would cost to implement these improvements in safety technologies pales in comparison to what all of the truck accidents cost the people of this country. Stricter safety standards and shorter workweeks may increase freight costs but it would save carriers even more money in the long run through lower insurance rates and far less damage claims.

According to the trucking association, the trucking industry generates over $700 billion a year in revenue. A relatively small increase in costs to make the roads safer for everyone would not put a large financial strain on carriers.

The time has really come for Congress to make some significant changes and put safety at the top of their list of priorities. In order to get this done, Congress must put together and pass a comprehensive highway funding bill ensuring that safety regulators have the resources and political support they need to keep us safe.

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