Citing statistics showing a dramatic increase in both the number of truck accidents and the number of fatalities related to commercial truck accidents, safety officials are pointing the finger at both the powerful trucking lobby and at Congress.
In the last five years, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration officials have seen the number of truck accidents escalate from 2,983 to 3,541, with a commensurate rise in fatalities tied to commercial truck crashes. The death toll rose from 3,380 in 2009 to 3,964 just four years later. According to safety experts, that same period of time saw the most concerted effort in years by trucking interests to lift or lessen restrictions on the over-the-road trucking business.
Critics say that, due in large part to the economic downturn in 2008-2009, many trucking companies file for bankruptcy or saw dramatically reduced profits. They then started lobbying Congress to make changes that would allow them to improve profitability, at the expense, critics say, of public safety. The lobbying efforts have included attempts to:
- Allow truckers to haul more than the 80,000 federal limit
- Increase the length of trailers from 28 feet to 33 feet
- Allow truckers to be on the road for 82 each week, up from the current limit of 70
- Permit companies to hire drivers as young as 18
Safety officials say that Congress has done little to resist the lobbying efforts of the trucking industry. For example, they say, the FMSCA, based on research that showed sleep apnea to be a problem across the transportation industry, floated a proposal that would require all truck drivers to be tested for sleep apnea. The trucking industry put a lot of money into lobbying to get the FMSCA to back down—and they did.
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