Why Is Congress Using Zika To Weaken Truck Safety?

In a week, families all over the country will pack up their cars and make a trip to the beach, to a family picnic, or just to get away from day to day life for the holiday weekend.

And if the trucking industry had its way, those families would be sharing the interstate with semi-truck drivers who are exhausted from working more than 80 hours a week.

Seriously. If that sounds reckless and unbelievably unsafe for both the public and the drivers, that's because it is. Nearly 4,000 people die in large truck crashes each year, and driver fatigue is a leading factor according to the Department of Transportation.

Take truck driver Dana Logan, who recently told reporters the heartwrenching story about how she personally witnessed another truck driver fall asleep and ram an SUV from behind. The SUV was slammed underneath Logan's trailer, shearing off the top of the SUV and decapitating the two fathers and two children inside the SUV. The truck driver who had fallen asleep and rammed the SUV from behind managed to ask Dana Logan's husband one last question before he died, he asked simply "Did I hit something?".

More famously back in June of 2014, a Walmart truck driver had been awake for more than 28 hours when he slammed his truck into actor Tracy Morgan's limo van, killing one passenger and leaving Morgan in a coma for two weeks.

We all drive on the roads, so this is definitely a matter of public concern. So when will the public comment period be on this proposal to let trucking companies push their drivers even beyond an 80 hour week? When will the public get to weigh in on whether the truck drivers are allowed to work themselves to exhaustion and threaten public safety?

Never.

That's because these measures are being inserted into a must-pass spending measure that includes funding for transportation, funding for housing and military construction projects, funding for the Veterans Administration, as well as new funding for Zika prevention in the United States. Both the House and the Senate versions of this legislation would block the Obama administration from enforcing a regulation that requires workers to take two days in a row off per week, and caps truck drivers' hours at 70 hours a week.

And as the Huffington Post points out, bribing, excuse me, "making campaign contributions to", compliant congressmen to use this sort of legislative backdoor to roll back safety regulations is something that the trucking industry has been doing for at least the last three years.

But it's not just the trucking industry that does this, pretty much every lobbying group on Capitol Hill can pull a few strings to get riders inserted into must-pass spending bills, and even though they rarely have anything to do with the larger bill, they always have a clear benefit to special interest factions.

In the last few years we've seen spending bills amended with industry-friendly riders that would roll back clean water protections and net neutrality rules, we've seen riders to defund Planned Parenthood, to defund Obamacare, to gut the National Labor Relations Board and thus block a litany of safety regulations, and the list goes on and on.

This rider that would let truckers work up to 83 hours, which is more than two full work weeks, in a row, is a prime example of how broken our legislative process is. The fact that there are no public hearings on any of these things isn't a sign of how busy Congress is, instead, it's a sign that our lawmaking process is set-up so that lawmakers only get input from industry about how Congress can help industry, at the expense of public safety and the common good.

So far in 2016, the members of the House have taken a full week off during every single month of this year, and they've actually been in session for only 59 days, and the Senate was only in session for 65 days.

There have been 95 working days and only five public holidays in 2016, and considering the fact that every single Representative is up for re-election this year, you can be certain that they've been spending their weekends and weeks off hustling campaign donations. And now the Republicans in Congress are earning their contributions from the trucking lobbying groups that have already given nearly 2 million dollars to Republican candidates in 2016.

What's even more insidious is that this rider is buried in a bill that includes funding for the VA along with much needed funding for Zika prevention.

That means that the Democrats and Barack Obama are left with the choice of either letting this rider pass - endangering people on our public highways all over the country - or risk being called out for playing political football in the face of a looming public health crisis.

It's time to get money out of politics so that our lawmakers actually spend their time carefully considering laws and getting public input before they vote.

Rolling back these trucking regulations will put every person who drives on our roads in danger, and the public is being completely blocked out of the lawmaking process.

Until we get money out of politics, we'll be stuck with a legislative agenda that places the well-being of special interests and corporate bottom-lines over public interests and the common good.

For more information on how we can get money out of politics, check out MoveToAmend.org.

Comments

PhilipHenderson's picture
PhilipHenderson 6 years 27 weeks ago
#1

We put a lot of interest in who is elected president, however, as long as we continue to elect a do-nothing good Congress, even when we have a great president nothing good gets done. So much of what Congress does is hidden from the public. If the people knew how members of the House and Senate manipulate the process they would be horrified. For many years my member of Congress was the dispicable Christoher Cox. Cox left the Congress because he was appointed as Commissioner of the SEC. I suspect that George W. Bush chose him because he knew nothing about business. Cox was in charge when the big banks failed in 2008. Now Cox is a lobbyists for the NRA. He was terrible before as a member of Congress but became worse. I am a Democrat. I never voted for that piece of trash, but my Republican friends in Irvine, California were happy to vote for him becasue they knew nothing about him except that he was a registered Republican. He never really ran for re-election, as long as his name was on the ballot with an R he was elected handily. When Democrats ran against him they made no traction because the voters only cared about Cox's membership in the Republican Party. They did not know that Cox voted against their interests. We need a revolution but not necessarily at the top. We need to rid the nation of Congresmembers like Cox, they are the one's who respond to lobbyists and not to constituents.

I am against term limits. I want somehow for the public to know how their elected officials behave, especially how they vote. If the public voted for members of Congress based on their record we would have a completely different Congress. I can imagine voting without knowing the name of the candidate, just their qualiflications and the voting they actually made if incumbents.

This do nothing good Congress is likely to be re-elected because of the gerrymandering of districts after the 2010 Census. It will take another five years before we can change any of that. The current Congress is the worst in my lifetime (I'm 69 years old) and I fear the next Congress will be less effective. The Republicans have done this to themselves. They created the Tea Party and Donald Trump, both have now turned on the Party that gave them birth. Sad.

Lloyd Lutterman's picture
Lloyd Lutterman 6 years 27 weeks ago
#2

watch... zika at gmo mosquitos release points

cccccttttt 6 years 27 weeks ago
#3

Looking at stark reality, the system is based on money and will remain so

for many years.

So while a mass movement may eventually change this, we must beat them

at their own game in the intervening years or decades.

Raise more money than the trucking industry to buy more prostitute congressmen.

"money talks and BS walks"

ct

tomcalwriter1's picture
tomcalwriter1 6 years 27 weeks ago
#4

Thom: Who is responsible for inserting that rider?

stecoop01's picture
stecoop01 6 years 27 weeks ago
#5

Thom, I know your article is about the corruption in Washington, but I would like to address a problem I see in the trucking industry and the CDL licensing regulations.

There is a SEVERE shortage of truck drivers in this country (US). Part of the cause is there are fewer people who want to be out on the road for weeks at a time. Some trucking companies are addressing this problem by offering very high pay ($150,000+/year) or by providing more home time for drivers, limiting trips to one week or less.

Another cause of the driver shortage is the difficulty in getting AND KEEPING a CDL (Commercial Drivers License). When the CDL program was first implemented 30+ years ago, any driver who could prove they had been working commercially for at least 2 years was automatically qualified for a CDL, no tests required. Additionally, the CDL would be required ONLY if driving across state lines, intrastate driving did not require a CDL unless the state made it a requirement.

Now a CDL is required even if operating within a single city; the testing requirements are almost ridiculus (you have to back through a serpentine - like you're ever going to have to do that on the highway), and you have to be a perfect physical specimen. New regulations that went into effect last summer (2015) require that any driver with ANY physical deformaties must be examined be an orthepedic surgeon (or other appropriate medical professional) who must certify that the deformity will not affect the drivers safe handling of the vehicle and does not require any special accomadation; and the driver must take and pass a "special" driving test, at additional cost.

I personally have been denied a CDL because of the minor deformities in my hands and feet (most people mistake it for arthritis).

When I went to truck driving school in 1984, the regulations were fairly simple: a driver was not allowed to drive more than 10 hours in a 24 hour period; was not allowed to have more than 14 hours of "on-duty" time in any 24 hour period; was required to have a minimum of 6 hours of sleep time in any 24 hour period; was not allowed to drive more than 480 miles in any 24 hour period; and was not allowed to be on-duty for more than 6 days in any 7 day period.

Some companies are forcing drivers to violate the newer, laxer rules because they can't hire enough drivers.

Congress thinks that making a CDL harder to get or keep will make the roads safer.

Unfortunately, it's having exactly the opposite affect.

leigh23's picture
leigh23 6 years 27 weeks ago
#6

Time for the line item veto, folks! Also time to reconsider rail travel as one engine can pull many truckloads of stuff vs the Truckathon we now have. Remantling the railways might inconvenience the Rail to Trail people, but imagine the safety savings in general.

Trucker David's picture
Trucker David 6 years 27 weeks ago
#7

As a current truck driver, I would like to address a couple of issues with this article, and give a comparison to what is in place now. Also there are a couple of conflicting amendments being proposed. You usually have a plethora of facts to back up your arguments, and the truck industry ones here are a little weak.

First, to give a little background. The truckers HOS (hours of service ) as they stand now. We have a revolving 70 hour clock. That means we have a total of 70 hrs, over a 7 day period. I repeat, spread over 7 days, not 5 like most other jobs. Everything we do has to fit into those hours. On any particular day, once we clock on, we can be On Duty for 14 hrs, anything over that, massive fines. In those 14 hrs, we can only drive up to 11. Once we clock off for the day, we are then required to rest 10 hrs before we can clock back on. Currently, and this is the important part for the amendments mentioned, we have a 34 hr reset. At any point, we can stop for 34 hrs, and it will reset the 70 hr clock. Keep in mind there are some studies currently being done about changing them, they were changed between 2010-2014 and changed back. Electronic logging on all hours in the truck and off is being instituted, and is a big to do in the industry. That doesn't stop a person from pulling an all nighter after they get off work and stupidly getting behind the wheel the next day, but most companies out here would can him fast if they caught him doing so.

Here are the amendments right now;

1: (Senate) An amendment to keep things as they are. (This is the one more popular in the trucking industry )

2: (House) An amendment to make the 34 hr reset only take effect if it includes two consecutive 1am-5am periods of time. As a lot of drivers stop in the afternoon, this has the effect of forcing a 40-45 hr reset, and thowing off most drivers regular drive time. (I personally pefer to start 3am-4am to skip traffic ), this amendment would only alow 1 reset per week, not allowing for more days off later in the week. This is what was in place between 2010-2014 and caused a lot of issues in the industry, and delays and problems with shippers and customers. This would also have the effect of forcing many drivers into rush hour traffic straight away when they clock back on.

3: I don't remember if it is house or senate, but I believe the proposed hrs increase was from 70 to 73 for the weekly clock. Not the 83 mentioned in the article. This would give us a little more time to find parking at the end of each day.

Keep in mind, even with the max that trucker CAN work in a day, few go to that extreme. Personally, I rarely go over 9 - 9 1/2 hrs in a day. Less on days that I am delivering or picking up. Even if it does bump up to 83 hrs, I do not see them relaxing the 11 hr drive time in the slightest. All that 83 hr limit would do is increase the buffer for sitting in the shippers/receivers dock. Truckers generally do NOT get paid per hr like most everyone else, we get pat pennies to the mile.

There is another amendment in this bill to force a ruling on speed limiters being imposed on all trucks in this mess as well. There is a study that was mandaded in the last spending bill to look into this and is currently being conducted and no where near done.

Another amendment that Barbara Boxer is against, is one that would restrict driver pay to only miles driven. Some companies offer pay if you have a break down, or while waiting 6-8 hrs for a shipper to load, and other incidentals. This one would get rid of those incentives.

Thom, I would suggest contacting almost any of the shows on the SiriusXM Road Dawg channel for more in depth information on this. I agree that adding all these nonsense amendments to a combined transportation / defense bill is nuts, then tossing in the Zika issue into this as well is crazy. This spending package is overstuffed.

George Wythe's picture
George Wythe 6 years 27 weeks ago
#8

Both the House and the Senate versions of this legislation would block the Obama administration from enforcing a regulation that requires workers to take two days in a row off per week, and caps truck drivers' hours at 70 hours a week.

The only problem with a 70 hr work week for Truck Driver is you will not have any truck drives,

They are not paid enough now, What do you think will happen if you decrease the number of hour he or she can work, and they are making even less?

Trucker David's picture
Trucker David 6 years 27 weeks ago
#9

We are already capped at 70 hours a week, and have been for at least 15 years. Keep in mind that 70 hrs a week boils down to a usable 10 hrs a day. Truckers do not just work Mon-Fri in strict business hours. If we did, that 70 cap would be ridiculous. That, and the 2 days off in a row is a bit of a misnomer. We can reset our 70 clock by taking 34 hrs off. The amendment would force us to include to 1am-5am periods of time before that reset counts. It does not change the 34hr requirement. And to only be able to take 1 reset in a 7 day period. As it stands now we can do a reset every other day if there was no freight or if needed. This was actually implemented between 2010-2014 and caused a lot of issues, and was reconsidered and rescinded at the beginning of 2015. The FMCSA has been doing a study on this ever since, and this legislation ignores that the study even exists.

As for driver pay, that really hasn't increased since the 80's and is an issue in itself. Even still, driving truck is one of the better paying jobs one can get with just a High School education. That is if you can swing the $4-5 thousand for training after working min wage jobs.

Trucker David's picture
Trucker David 6 years 27 weeks ago
#10

I was wrong on when the 2 consecutive periods of 1am-5am during a 34 reset were in effect before. It was in effect between 2013-2014. Not 2010. It was rolled back to the previous rule of taking the 34 hr reset at any point during the day that was in effect before. The FMCSA is doing a study on these and other resets, and other time schedules. The proposed amendment would reinstate an unpopular, and unstudied ruleset.

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