The trucking industry scored a victory this week when Republican lawmakers blocked safety rules aimed at keeping tired truckers off the highway. Safety advocates are worried that it may signal the start of a broad rollback of transportation safety regulations under Trump.
HAGERSTOWN, Md. — The trucking industry scored a victory this week when Republican lawmakers effectively blocked Obama administration safety rules aimed at keeping tired truckers off the highway. But there’s more coming down the road.
The American Trucking Associations is pledging to come back next month, when Republicans will control the White House and Congress, and try to block state laws that require additional rest breaks for truckers beyond what federal rules require. The group says that there should be one uniform national rule on work hours for interstate truckers and that the extra breaks aren’t necessary for safety.
The trucking industry’s latest triumph has caused concern among safety advocates that it may signal the start of a broad rollback of transportation safety regulations once there’s no longer a Democratic president to check the tendency of Republican lawmakers to side with industry.
“Unfortunately, it’s going to be an open season on safety in this coming Congress,” said Jim Hall, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) during the Clinton administration.
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Shippers and some segments of the trucking industry probably will also push for long-sought goals of increasing the weight limit on trucks to more than 90,000 pounds and increasing the length of individual trailers in double-trailer combinations from 28 feet to 33 feet, safety advocates said. The trailers in single-trailer trucks can be up to 53 feet, but trailers in trucks with two trailers now can’t be more than 28 feet.
“It’s going to be very tough because the companies really care about the cost. They don’t care about the safety no matter what they say,” said safety advocate Joan Claybrook.
The provision Republicans added to a must-pass government spending bill this week suspends regulations issued by the Obama administration requiring truckers to take two nights off to rest if they take only the minimum break before starting a new workweek. Drivers for companies that operate on a seven-day schedule can work as many as 80 hours in a workweek through a combination of driving and other work, like loading and unloading.
Truckers are required to take at least a minimum 34-hour break before starting a new workweek.
But the trucking industry objected to requirements that the 34 hours include two periods from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. Sleep scientists say rest during the early morning hours is critical for people to feel refreshed. The suspension means truckers can head out on the road again during those hours if the 34-hour break has elapsed.
Another regulation that prevents truckers from using the 34-hour break to start a new workweek twice within a seven-day period was also suspended.
Truck driver Bill Varnado, 66, of Dallas, Ga., said he likes the sleep requirement because it ensures that drivers are well-rested. He said it’s hard to find places to sleep in one’s rig on the road, so drivers sometimes keep going.
“Sometimes you’re forced to drive fatigued because you can’t find anywhere to park,” said Varnado, who drives for Pro Trucking of Acworth, Ga., during a truck-stop break along Interstate 81 here.
But self-employed trucker George Lafferty, 61, of Henry, Ill., said Congress should repeal the rule.
“I don’t see how the government can tell you when to sleep and when not to,” Lafferty said during a truck-stop interview along Interstate 81 after dropping off a load of yeast at a livestock-feed plant.
“A driver should know when he’s fatigued or not,” he said. “If you’re fatigued, take a half-hour, hour nap.”