Decapitation of children and the willful spread of the Zika virus? Some evil warlord up to no good in the Congo? No, that’s what happens when lawmakers won’t stand up to the trucking industry—at least according to the headline and first couple of paragraphs in the Huffington Post story, Congress Is Using Zika To Weaken Truck Safety.
Now, to be fair to writer Michael McAuliff, internet headlines are designed to standout in a newsfeed, and someone other than the author often is responsible. And McAuliff does include comments from the American Trucking Assns. in the story—eventually. But that’s after he’s already locked down the argument that the trucking industry doesn’t care who gets hurt as long as there’s money to be made.
To summarize: The story begins with truck driver Dana Logan, attempting to recall an accident where another trucker rammed an SUV stuck in traffic behind her rig. Her story includes the dying words of the truck driver blamed for the crash, but “sobbing, Logan had to stop.”
“What the Logans and other safety advocates are worried about are measures that would allow truck drivers to work more than 80 hours a week, tacked onto to separate appropriations bills in the House and the Senate,” McAuliff writes.
He refers to the ongoing legislative maneuvering in regard to the restart provisions in hours of service rule. And when I say ongoing, this is the third year in a row that the DOT budget bill has dealt with the restart in some form or fashion, beginning with the rollback in 2014.
And the “highway safety advocates” (or, to use ATA Chairman Pat Thomas’s preferred nomenclature, “the anti-truck groups”) are still screaming about it, making it seem as though every truck driver is operating at the theoretical limits of HOS, working more than 80 hours in a week, taking advantage of the restart, and doing it again and again. And give them credit: In the absence of data, a parade of strategically organized victims provide great cover for lawmakers working their own angles. (Cherchez le chemin de fer.)
Indeed, several senators “had hoped to offer an amendment in debate to restore the Obama rest regulations, but they were not given a chance,” McAuliff reports.
Oh, those fiendishly clever truckers: They got Congress to put the favorable language and the DOT budget bill in a vote with funding to combat the spread of Zika. Really? Out of every special interest with a stake in the $56.5 billion FY2017 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) Appropriations Act, it’s the truckers who are behind this? I’d like to see the notes from that backroom deal: So, the spreadsheet says X people will die because of tired truckers, but X times 10,000 will be protected from Zika—so this is a great trade off!
Of course, this is really all just the ebb and flow of partisan politics. Congress right now is run by Republicans who are disinclined to support meddlesome regulations. ‘Twas not always thus, and the wheel will turn again.
So it would be shortsighted for trucking to force favorable legislation just because it can. (And then there’s the more subtle aspect that’s generally lost on those outside of the industry: “trucking” means a lot of different things to different people, and to try to characterize them as unified on anything—except, ironically, safety—is folly.)
In the meantime, I’m inclined to support moderation in all things: Pass the necessary fix to maintain the restart status quo until the effectiveness study is complete, and then go from there.