Posted: June 10, 2015
Source: Jim Hoffa, The Detroit News
Highways across Michigan and the U.S. have become increasingly dangerous for motorists. And that will only get worse if Congress approves a transportation spending bill that effectively keeps the suspension of rules in place that allow truck drivers to work longer hours, that permits larger double-trailers and that prevents the U.S. Department of Transportation from raising minimum insurance standards that have been frozen in place for the last three decades.
By reducing the hours drivers are forced to rest each week, a maximum 70-hour workweek is extended to 82 hours.
The fate of those provisions, tucked inside a $55 billion federal transportation spending bill, is now being considered on Capitol Hill. Despite the recent settlement related to a high-profile crash last year involving a Walmart driver hitting a vehicle carrying comedian Tracy Morgan that killed another man, lawmakers are still brushing aside safety concerns.
More than 4,000 lives are claimed each year on our highways in accidents involving tractor trailers, many of which don’t get national headlines. Long hours on the road are often the cause of them because drivers feel pressured by their employers to push their limits. In fact, it was long hours on the job that led to the crash that injured Morgan and killed fellow comedian James McNair.
Those forces will only increase, however, if “hours of service” rules, loosened last year by Congress, are allowed to continue. By reducing the hours drivers are forced to rest each week, a maximum 70-hour workweek is extended to 82 hours. If this legislation becomes law, that scenario is very likely to continue. Drivers are less likely to be alert behind the wheel, which leads to more crashes.
That makes sense to most anyone. But a lesser-known issue is one involving longer tractor trailers. The transportation appropriations bill would allow trucks to pull 33-foot trailers. As it stands, states are allowed to set the standard, and many limit their length to the federal minimum of two 28-foot trailers.
Michigan and 38 other states could be forced to allow these oversized rigs on their roadways if Congress approves the legislation. And there are plenty of reasons why these states now don’t.