POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

New Trucking Rules Suspended, Safety Questioned

By Brenda Flanagan
Correspondent

“My rule is– if I save one life, then we’re even,” said Dawn King.

King says, over thousands of miles, long haul truckers often defy exhaustion to deliver the goods. She says, that haste cost her dad his life 10 years ago.

“He was rear-ended by a semi-truck and killed instantly. And when it all came to a stop, the driver of the truck jumped out and said, ‘I’m sorry!  I was asleep!’ I’m sure his truck company didn’t train him to do that,” said King.

That’s why King and other safety advocates condemn Congress for suspending the new so-called “Restart Rule.” It required truckers to make sure their regular weekly 34 hour break included two consecutive periods of 1 to 5 a.m.  Pols tucked the rule suspension into a must-pass spending bill– signed by Pres. Obama. Most turnpike travelers admit it’s complicated but why suspend that extra safeguard?

“It’s all about the dollar. So you’re gonna have some folks who are gonna violate, take short cuts, and do what they wanna do,” said motorist Darryl Brown.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea. There’s a lot more trucks on the road. That’s good for the economy, but we’ll have to see how the accident rate goes up,” said motorist David Dickey.

Sen. Cory Booker says it’ll,  “Make our roads less safe, at a time truck accidents have been on the rise.”  National statistics do show 187 more people died in large truck accidents from 2011 to 2012– up 5 percent. Deaths rose again by 20 last year– up a half-percent. The question is, why?

“You have one driver that does bad and then it reflects on all of us,” said long haul trucker Dave Hammons.

Hammons just delivered a load of beef from Oklahoma– he pulls up for a rest at the Vince Lombardi Service Area.

Rigs at the service area park in staggered lines. Many with truckers snoozing in their sleeper cabs. Regulations generally limit their workday to 11 hours of driving– up to 60 hours a week– and electronic log books help keep them honest. They grumble but that new Restart Rule really revved up their resentment. 

“I liked having the option that if I’m tired enough, I can pull over right then, when I want to, knowing I don’t need to go any further. And then still have the hours to drive,” said Hammons.

Truckers had long accepted the original Restart Rule. It just required 34 hours off. After a lab test showed it could improve safety, Congress added those double 1 to 5 a.m. requirements, creating the new Restart Rule– and a lot of confusion.  

Let’s say a trucker pulls over at 2 a.m. Saturday. But 34 hours later– that’s noon on Sunday. He’s logged only a single 1 to 5 a.m. period. He needs two, so he waits until Monday at 5 a.m. to get the green light. That’s 51 hours of downtime and a much later start rush hour.
    
“It’s forcing trucks and drivers into early morning hours, when rest of us commuters are going to work– meaning 6,7,8 o’clock in the morning,” said American Trucking Association Executive Vice President Dave Osiecki.

“Can’t make money if the wheels ain’t turning,” said Hammons.

The new Restart Rules rolled back only through next September– while it gets more scrutiny. Meanwhile, the original one remains in effect. 

Some independent truckers told us, don’t believe the “drugged up, speeding zombie” stereotype. It’s not like that. But they say, they do see a few sleepy, careless truckers. The question: will fewer regulations slow them down?