Are you one of the millions of people in the United States who drives a car every day? How do you react to the trucking industry, whose lobbyists with ample campaign cash swarm over Congress, pressing for a rider to a transportation appropriations bill to be passed to overturn laws in 39 states that currently ban unsafe double 33 foottractor-trailer combinations? What is your opinion of another provision in this bill to permanently increase truck driver working and driving hours up to 82 hours per week, abolishing the “weekend off” for two nights of restorative rest? Or what is your view of various exemptions that allow current federal truck weight limits of 80,000 lbs. to reach up to 129,000 lbs., further damaging roads and bridges already in need of repair? Or what is your reaction to certain members of Congress, owned by the trucking lobby led by Federal Express and UPS, continuing to freeze the absurdly low minimum insurance requirements for trucks and passenger-carrying busses?
Your replies, given polls going back twenty years, are likely to match the large majorities of people opposed to further unleashing more oversized, overweight trucks and tired truckers (see Parents Against Tired Truckers at http://trucksafety.org/tag/parents-against-tired-truckers/) onto our roads.
Members of Congress owned by the trucking industry such as Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) (a states’ rights advocate who should know better), are pushing this rider in an overall Senate Appropriations bill (the monster, HR 2577, has already passed the House of Representatives) without public input. Astonishingly, there have been no congressional hearings on the FedEx proposal to compel every state to allow double 33s!
The Appropriations Committee chairman, Senator Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi), supported vigorously by Dick Hall, chairman of his state’s Transportation Commission, voted against the trucking lobbies but lost the Committee by one vote late in June. Fortunately, the Department of Transportation and President Obama oppose increasing truck hazards on and to the highways.
The fight to stop this highway space grab now goes to the Senate floor where the Democrats and some Republicans will try to get this rider deleted. They have, led by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-California), Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) and Tom Udall (D-New Mexico), plenty of arguments. Listen to Jackie Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety: “Over the past five years alone (2009-2013), fatalities from large truck crashes have increased by 17% and injuries have increased by 28%. Every year, on average, there are 4,000 people killed and 100,000 more injured in large truck crashes which is equivalent to a major airplane crash every week of the year.”
Imagine, the big trucking industry now wants to roll back protections in 39 states, put longer double-trailers on your roads and cut back on giving truck drivers the rest they (and you) need.
Is there any limit on the supremacy of commercial greed over safety values? Go to these websites for “what you can do” details and factual rebuttals of the freight industry’s assertions that double 33s will result in fewer trucks on the road or that two trailer trucks are as safe as single unit trucks.
In past battles with the powerful trucking industry and its insidious ally, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce headed by Thomas Donohue (the former head of the American Trucking Associations), the railroads could be counted on to challenge the truck lobby. Solid freights using the railways make for safer roads and transport. Lately, however, the railroad interests have been less of a counter to the trucking industry, in part due to their investments in trucking operations.
So it’s up to all of you who outnumber even the number of dollars spent each year on your members of Congress by the freight industry coalition. (See http://www.citizen.org/documents/analysis-trucking-money-to-weaken-safety-rules-june-2015.pdf.) Yes, there are far more automobile drivers than the mass of dollars that the trucking companies float on Capitol Hill. But unlike those corporations supplying campaign cash, you have power because you have the votes.
It should not take descriptions of grisly casualties in crashes with overturned cars and trailer trucks to motivate automobile drivers, the people whose lives are at stake when roads become less safe. You’ve driven by these dreadful roadside scenes, even if you haven’t actually experienced them.
You can win this fight if you just spend a little time calling the Senators and Representatives who are advocating for the double trailers and weaker tired-trucker rules. Ask them either by telephone, letter or e-mail to send you a letter reporting how much money they have taken from the trucking companies and their allies over the past five years. They have to report this information to the Federal Election Commission.
Tell your members of Congress what kind of safety you want for you and your families by demanding safer, tougher rules for giant trucks, their loads, braking systems and adequately rested drivers—not a rollback!
Call the Congressional switchboard number (1-202-224-3121) and ask the always polite operator to transfer you to the Senators or Representatives whom you wish to admonish and advise. After all, if they are supposed to work for you, they need reminding that you’ll remember in November.
Ralph Nader’s latest book is: Unstoppable: the Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State.