Though tractor-trailers make up just .7% of the 253 million vehicles on U.S. roads, they play a major role in traffic fatalities, accounting for one in 10 highway deaths. That’s 10% of all fatal accidents, suggesting that large trucks pose a much more significant danger than traditional passenger vehicles. Yet the key federal regulators in the trucking industry – the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) – have delayed over 20 years in producing minimum safety standards for tractor-trailer drivers, leaving motorists in danger from inexperienced tractor-trailer drivers.
The Slow Drive Toward Better Regulations
Back in 1991, Congress ordered the DOT to establish training standards for entry-level truckers by 1993. Instead, the Department ignored the order, issuing rules only in 2004. Safety advocates took the DOT to court, arguing that the rules issued by the regulator were grossly inadequate. In 2005, a court ruled that the FMCSA had ignored safety data and again demanded that the regulatory agency issue new rules.
By 2007, the DOT issued another proposal. This one called for 120 hours of training to get a commercial driver’s license, including 44 hours of behind-the-wheel supervision and training. Unfortunately, the rule was never adopted. By 2012, Congress yet again ordered the department to issue a new rule and demanded that the new rule set minimum safety standards in addition to requiring classroom and behind-the-wheel training. In 2013, the department withdrew its proposed rule and promised to develop a new rule, as well as a new rule-making process.
The Latest In a Round of Safety Lawsuits
In September of 2014, a group of safety advocates – including the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways – filed a lawsuit asking the District of Columbia Court of Appeals to force Anthony Foxx, the secretary of transportation, to issue final training standards. This could mark the end of a 20-year battle to finally establish unified safety and training standards for one of the riskiest occupations in the country.
So what will happen next? The FMCSA just announced its plan to create a negotitated rule-making committee which would be charged with creating new standards. The committee will include safety experts and representatives from the trucking industry. The committee must then work together to devise new rules – a process that isn’t always clean, as the history of lawsuits surrounding this issue suggests. However, if the rules are devised and finally implemented, the industry will finally get a much-needed update to its safety standards.