Truck-safety advocate criticizes Collins on budget fix additions

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LEWISTON — The founder of Parents Against Tired Truckers said provisions that Sen. Susan Collins wants to add to a federal budget bill would “jeopardize the safety of everyone.”

Daphne Izer of Lisbon, whose teenage son was killed by a trucker who fell asleep at the wheel in October 1993, said relaxing rest standards for truck drivers would put more lives at risk.

“If my loving son, Jeff, had been killed in an airplane crash involving a fatigued pilot, Congress would take swift and direct action to improve air traffic safety,” Izer said in a statement issued Wednesday. “Yet, his death, like so many of the preventable deaths happening each year in crashes involving tired truckers, occurred on just an ordinary day in a small town and did not result in any change in policy protections.”

Collins, R-Maine, has argued that the regulations she wants to change make the roads safer because they allow truckers to travel more in the early-morning hours before commuters and travelers are on the highways.

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Collins won overwhelming support for the changes from the U.S. Senate’s Appropriations Committee, which voted 21-9 earlier this year.

New rules implemented in 2013 require truck drivers to take two consecutive periods of rest between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. when they have worked 70 hours. Collins’ change would require at least one “restart” per week between 1 and 5 a.m.

Rules that forbid truckers from driving more than 60 hours in a seven-day period or 70 hours in an eight-day period would remain in place. All other limits on drivers, including mandatory off-duty hours and rest periods, would remain in place.

Collins’ amendment to the budget bill would provide $4 million for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to conduct a study of the restart provision as it pertains to safety, health and driver fatigue.

But truck safety advocates such as Izer said the change would open the door to allowing the trucking industry to push drivers to work more on less sleep. Under the change, drivers could have up to 82 hours of on-duty time before getting two full days of rest.

Critics say Collins was influenced by the industry and the changes she wants were not vetted publicly in Congress or even looked at by the committees that regulate transportation.

“Our nation already suffers 4,000 deaths annually and more than 100,000 injuries,” Joan Claybrook, chairwoman of Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, said in a prepared statement. “The trucking industry overrode this strong public opposition by cashing in on its financial support to elected officials.”

Claybrook added, “Sen. Collins has now guaranteed that truck driver fatigue will continue to be a growing problem. Our drivers are being driven to death.”

Collins has said the changes she wants are narrow and intended to improve highway safety.

According to Collins’ staff in Washington, the change would not affect other rules, including required minimum off-duty hours, limits on total daily driving hours, mandatory meal and rest breaks, sleeper berth requirements and electronic on-board monitors. The change also would not affect current federal exemptions for so-called “hours of service” rules.

A previous proposal by Maine’s 2nd District U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democrat, would have delayed all of the changes implemented in 2013.

Collins’ proposal would undo two of the rule changes and only for one year while the issue is studied fully by the federal government, Kevin Kelley, a spokesman for Collins in Washington, said Wednesday.

“I care deeply about safety on our nation’s roads, and no one wants to see an accident caused by driver fatigue or by any other cause,” Collins said, also in a prepared statement Wednesday. “What has become clear is that new federal rules, implemented last year, have presented some unintended and unanticipated consequences that are not in the best interest of public safety, truck drivers or the businesses and consumers who depend on their services.”

Collins said her provision provides temporary relief from a regulation that is forcing trucks onto the highways when they are most congested, “during a time when commuters are traveling to work and children are traveling to school.”

sthistle@sunjournal.com

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