Federal statistics say 5,169 people died in crashes involving large trucks last year; one was Bill Badger. He was killed in Georgia last December when a Schneider National truck hit his car after the truck driver fell asleep at the wheel.
Badger's daughters Beth Bandy and Dawn King were in Washington last week along with other relatives of truck crash victims to urge Congress to require the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to enforce its hours of service rules.
"We want to look at ways to fix this," Bandy said. "Truckers are still driving too many hours. There has to be a way for trucking to be competitive and safe."
The effort, part of the annual "Sorrow to Strength" conference organized for truck crash victims by the Truck Safety Coalition, came as truckers and regulators were making new efforts to get the hours of service rules codified beyond the reach of court challenge. With emotional relatives of crash victims on hand, the groups were sending a message that the debate over truck driver hours of service has many hours to go.
"No load of freight, I don't care what it is, is worth a human life," said Daphne Izer, founder of Parents Against Tired Truckers.
The Truck Safety Coalition, comprised of PATT and Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, is teaming with Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Public Citizen and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to challenge FMCSA's final HOS rules.
Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook says stricter limits should be placed on driver hours of service.
"I'd have truckers drive eight hours, not 10 or 11," Claybrook said. "I'd have them on a circadian rhythm, with a 24-hour cycle, and knock out the 34-hour restart."
In particular, she would give truck drivers more rest time. "They need to have more time off," Claybrook said at an Oct. 17 press conference organized by the Truck Safety Coalition.
She also urged mandatory use of onboard recorders. "Trucking companies use technology to keep track of cargo, but not to enforce HOS," she said.
Public Citizen and its allies last week were preparing to fight any attempt to include the new HOS rules in the transportation department appropriations bill. (A bid to write the HOS rules into the highway bill failed this summer.) "They [FMCSA and the trucking industry] are determined to do this," said Claybrook. "It's their last, best chance this legislative session."
The Truck Safety Coalition event coincided with the American Trucking Associations' Management Conference in Boston, where truckload executives expressed concern over the new HOS rules. Truckers fear the inability to split 10-hour off-duty periods into two sleeper-berth breaks could make it more difficult for drivers to keep delivery schedules and exacerbate driver and capacity shortages. Under the new rules, drivers must take at least eight consecutive hours off during their 10 hours off-duty. The Owner-Operators Independent Drivers Association has petitioned FMCSA to drop the new "sleeper berth" rule.
The sleeper berth provision was one of the few aspects of the final rule that Public Citizen and its allies liked. The advocacy group and the Teamsters union filed a petition with FMCSA last month urging the agency to "reconsider" its final rule.
But Claybrook wouldn't say whether the group will go to federal court to challenge the rule. "We will take this forward in small steps," she said.
There's no doubt, however, that she plans to move forward. "This fight is going to go on and we are going to win," she said.
Claybrook led the successful challenge to the HOS rules FMCSA introduced in 2003. A federal appeals court panel struck down the rules last year on the grounds they didn't adequately address driver health.
FMCSA reintroduced the rules in August, adding language relating to driver health and amending provisions governing how drivers account for time spent resting in sleeper berths and how many hours delivery drivers may work.