Thursday, August 13, 2015

Congress must tackle driver fatigue head on

The Teamsters and highway safety advocates for years have talked about the real problem of fatigued truck drivers on the nation's roadways. But in many ways that message did not register among the public until an accident on the New Jersey Turnpike last year that left actor Tracy Morgan seriously injured and killed fellow comic James McMillan.

The Teamsters stand at the forefront of truck driver safety.
Earlier this week, the National Transportation Safety Board confirmed what many already believed to be true -- that a Walmart truck driver was suffering from severe fatigue when he plowed into a limo van carrying the two men and others. That said, despite the efforts of some lawmakers, no action has been taken to try and address the issue that jeopardizes tens of millions who travel along the nation's highways each year.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who has stood as a leader on Capitol Hill, said Congress continues to err on the matter in favor of the trucking industry:
Despite my efforts to make our roads safer and ensure that truckers get adequate rest, the Senate last month permanently exempted many truck drivers from fatigue rules. Then, in one of its last acts before leaving Washington, the Senate passed a transportation bill full of special interest gifts to the trucking industry – most troubling of which would allow 18 year olds to drive these monster trucks on little rest. We can and must do better. Lives depend on it.
It is imperative that lawmakers don't make the same grave error going forward. Congress will again be dealing with the issue this fall, as it needs to come up with a long-term transportation funding bill. An increase in the hours-of-service provision would endanger not only truck drivers, but all of us who use U.S. roadways.

As Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa wrote in a letter sent to Congress earlier this year:
Not all motor carries run their drivers to the limit of their hours-of-service, but it does happen, Drivers feel pressure from their employers to drive more than 60-70 hours a week with insufficient rest. Without a strong voice in the workplace like the Teamsters Union, these drivers are left with no recourse and the resulting fatigue leads to accidents.
Elected officials, however, could make a difference here. It is an opportunity they cannot miss again.