As lawmakers work to pass legislation to renew transit system programs and to fund them, truck safety advocates worry that the bills are too lax on safety issues regarding trucks and their drivers. Two separate transportation bills, each aimed primarily at funding, also contain provisions that govern other aspects of the trucking industry. At issue are the maximum length of tandem trailers, truck drivers’ rest periods, and whether to allow young drivers to drive across state lines.
The transportation spending bill seeks to increase the legal trailer length from 28 to 33 feet in all states. Currently, 19 states allow the larger configurations. In 2002, the Transportation Research Board recommended that the longer trailers be allowed; however, safety groups oppose the longer trailers and want a new safety study conducted. Advocates say that larger trucks will reduce the number of trips needed to ship goods, thereby decreasing the number of trucks on the road and increasing overall highway safety.
Driver rest periods are the second issue. The bill would shelve rest rules for drivers that have already been delayed pending an impact study. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Association, the number of fatal truck crashes increased approximately five percent between 2011 and 2014. Many of those accidents were caused by drivers whose reaction times were impaired due to lack of sleep. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has argued for a reduction in the frequency and timing of truckers’ extended rest periods before being allowed to drive a seven-day, 60-hour week.
Finally, the transportation bill would allow 18-year-old drivers to cross state lines during their run. Currently, drivers must be at least 21 before they can drive outside their state, regardless of the distance. Opponents to the provision cite driver inexperience as a reason to limit younger truckers to in-state driving. Sean McNally, a spokesman for the American Trucking Associations explains, “What these bills envision is not teenagers driving across the country from New Jersey to California.”
Calling for common sense safety standards to protect truckers as well as motorists, Senate Commerce Committee member, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) has pledged to continue the fight against any legislation that seeks to undermine safety standards and to allow longer trucks on the road without proper oversight.