Wal-Mart wants to extend the workday for its truck drivers from 14 to 16 hours, and a Lisbon mother of a teen killed by a company trucker is outraged.

While the current 14-hour workday rule limits truckers to 11 consecutive hours of driving, a proposal before Congress seeks 16-hour shifts providing truckers take an unpaid two-hour break.

Labor unions and safety advocates – among them Parents Against Tired Truckers – say that would make America’s roadways more dangerous for everyone.

Among the opponents of the measure, Daphne Izer, founder of PATT, was in Washington Tuesday to speak against the proposal.

“It’s crazy. It’s outrageous. It’s all about greed and the almighty dollar,” Izer said Tuesday evening.

U.S. Rep. John Boozman, a Republican from Arkansas, whose district includes Wal-Mart’s headquarters, proposed extending truckers’ workdays. He maintains that his bill is safety-oriented.

“Truckers are pushing harder than ever to make their runs within the mandated time frame,” Boozman told The Associated Press. “Optional rest breaks will reduce driver layovers and improve both safety and efficiency.”

Safety was the issue for Izer when she formed PATT after losing her son.

It was a Wal-Mart driver, Robert C. Hornbarger of Clearville, Pa., who was behind the wheel of a Wal-Mart truck on an October 1993 night when it crashed into the car of Jeff Izer parked in the breakdown lane at mile 53 of the Maine Turnpike in Falmouth.

Jeff Izer and three of his friends were killed.

Hornbarger eventually admitted to falsifying his log book. He was sentenced to three months in jail and fined $1,000.

Truckers doctor their log books in order to drive longer hours.

Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook said under Boozman’s plan, drivers could end up starting their day at 8 in the morning but not finishing it until midnight.

“This is a sweatshop-on-wheels amendment,” the AP quoted her as saying. “The last thing we need is for tired truckers to become even more fatigued and threaten the safety of those around them on the roads.”

According to National Highway Transportation Safety Administration figures, nearly 5,000 people were killed in large truck crashes in 2003, the most recent numbers available. Large trucks were also three times more likely to be involved in fatal crashes than were passenger cars.

Wal-Mart spokesman Erik Winborn told the AP his company backs Boozman’s bill.

“We support it because we feel it would actually enhance safety rather than hurt safety.”

Wal-Mart employs 7,000 truck drivers. Soon, many will be working out of Lewiston. The company is building a huge distribution center near the turnpike that is expected to generate hundreds of added truck trips on area roads daily.

Izer said the fact that Wal-Mart in particular is backing the measure “bothers us a lot.”

“We don’t believe this is happening; it’s very upsetting,” she added in a cell phone interview from the turnpike as she made her way back home to Lisbon.

Fatal truck crashes are “happening every day,” she said. “You could be next.”

Now co-chairperson of the PATT board, Izer said of Boozman’s bill: “We’re hoping that he withdraws it.”

Otherwise, the measure goes to the House floor today.


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