HOS battle heating up

by Ingrid Phaneuf

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The big guns have come out in the ongoing battle over hours of service south of the border.

As American Trucking Associations spent the summer trying to convince Congress to make the revised Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) hours of service rule introduced Aug. 22 law, opponents, such as CRASH (Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways), fought equally hard to prevent codification of the law, which would prevent further court challenges.

Their respective strategies were predictable.

While ATA and FMCSA served up several studies and fact sheets demonstrating that the new hours of service rules do in fact take driver health and safety into account, CRASH solicited anecdotal information from truck crash victims.

In response, ATA issued a special alert to its members on the attack on trucking being prepared by CRASH.

“The so-called CRASH Foundation, funded by trial lawyers and other known trucking opponents, is preparing another attack on trucking’s improving safety record,” read the notice issued via ATA’s public affairs department.

“The self-styled ‘safety organization’ has issued a request for tainted accident information that will likely be used to misrepresent the role of fatigue on car-truck- related accidents.

“CRASH will ignore data from the American Transportation Research Institute indicating that motor carriers, operating under the current hours of service rule in all of 2004 posted lower recordable accident rates and lower injury rates per million miles. The data, which represents over 100,000 drivers operating more than 10.5 billion fuel tax miles, showed recordable accidents per million miles fell to .68 in 2004 from .71 a year earlier. The total injury rate, meanwhile, declined to .94 injuries per million miles from 1.07 injuries per million miles in 2003.

“Of particular note is the fact that CRASH has not asked for verification of fault in truck accidents. They are probably not interested as research by FMCSA and the AAA Foundation for Traffic safety continues to show that up to 75 per cent of fatal car-truck accidents are not caused by trucks, but rather are initiated by non-commercial motor vehicle drivers.

“The actual existence of CRASH as a reputable group is dubious (industry insiders have, in the past, questioned the contribution of rail to funding), as its message and personnel closely match that of other regular truck-bashing groups. ATA members should consider the mainstream news media’s tendencies to report unverified and sensationalized charges ahead of highway safety facts, and be prepared to respond if asked by local news media.”

ATA has made online information and documentation available to members for this purpose – visit The Straight Scoop on Trucking at www.truckline.com.

In its alert the ATA also provided the following text of CRASH’s request for information from members as proof of the group’s strategy to defeat the latest hours of service rule:

“…the fight is not over yet. In fact, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the trucking industry are looking for other bills moving through Congress to attach amendments to accomplish their goal of codifying the flawed hours of service (HOS) rule unanimously overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals.

“In the coming weeks there will be many more attempts to enact increased HOS related amendments into law and we need to be prepared. To aid our effort, we are asking for your help in documenting fatigue related truck crashes. This will greatly assist us by clearly showing members of Congress and the media the negative safety impacts of longer driving hours on truck drivers and the motoring public.

“We would like each one of you to share your story about a loved one or friend who died or was injured in a fatigue-related truck crash. These stories will be documented and compiled in a book to share with key House and Senate Members and the media to show the devastating personal impact and loss we suffer as a result of truck driver fatigue…”

The letter is signed by John Lannen, executive director of the Truck Safety Coalition, an affiliate of CRASH.

The ATA is, for its part, hoping to win the battle for the new revised hours of service rule by supplying a virtual flurry of supporting documentation which shows, as stated before, that truck related accident rates have in fact declined during the past year. Among the documents provided by ATA is the just-completed American Transport Research Institute survey that shows the industry to be operating more safely under the new rules, which have been temporarily in effect since January 2004.

The ATA also cites fatigue research that indicates fatigue is a factor in only three to six per cent of all fatal truck-car crashes, and a top ten list of crash causes which does not include fatigue.

To top it off, ATA has also made available copies of the FMCSA and AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety crash-causation studies that show up to 75 per cent of all fatal truck-car crashes begin with an error on the four-wheeler’s part.

Even so, the ATA expects no less than a full-on emotional assault on the rules within the next few months.

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