"People should absolutely be concerned," Claybrook says. "There are 700 truckers killed in truck accidents in a year and 5,000 people in cars also killed in those accidents. Truck driving is a dangerous occupation—drivers work very long hours. A lot of these accidents are caused by tired truckers." Claybrook notes the Clinton administration was on its way to regulating hours of service for truckers but the Bush administration has not followed suit. Public Citizen has filed, and won, several lawsuits attempting to force the Bush administration to properly regulate the trucking industry but does not hold any hope that the administration will actually do so.
"Hours of driving is a key issue. It's all about money. Truck drivers are not paid overtime—under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) they were considered exempt—so there is a tremendous push for them to drive as far or as fast or as long as possible, even if it means cheating on their hours. Employers push truck drivers to do this and they're scared not to. Federal law allows them to drive a long time, anyhow—11 hours of driving time a day—which adds up to huge hours per week," says Claybrook.
Claybrook says a second issue with large trucks is the difficulty in enforcing rules limiting the driver's hours of service. There are devices that can be put in a truck that track the truck's movement. If a police officer stopped the truck driver, the officer could check the device and determine how many hours the truck was driven. However, there are no laws forcing trucks to have this device onboard. Currently, truck drivers are only required to fill out paper forms regarding hours of service—making it easy to underreport hours. In fact, Claybrook notes the logbooks are often called "comic books" because it is so easy to lie about hours.
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"People have every right to be concerned about large trucks on the road," Claybrook says. "We should do more long-distance transport of cargo by train. Eighty percent of cargo is taken by trucks, but for long-distance travel, train is much less dangerous.
"Truck drivers have good intentions of being safe drivers. The problem is they are pushed beyond their capacity to work too many hours. Furthermore, the roadways are not designed for larger trucks. Unfortunately, in the last year the trucking industry has exercised so much power that change is not happening, except where lawsuits force the industry to change."