Multiple agencies within the U.S. Department of Transportation announced in late November that they will stop a year-long effort to address a better diagnosis system for sleep apnea among workers in the trucking and railroad industries. Sleep apnea is a health condition which can prevent proper rest and has led vehicle operators to fall asleep behind the wheel, causing deadly accidents. The Federal Government had been considering mandatory screening of truck drivers and rail engineers for the disorder.
The move is one of a series of proposals and regulatory blocks that have been instituted as a result of the current administration’s anti-regulatory policies, which have been deemed bad for business and hiring processes.
Among the regulatory actions that have been curtailed include:
- Automatic emergency braking
- Efforts to require underride trailer guards to stop a car in a collision before the passenger compartment wedges under the trailer
- Requirements for speed-limiting devices
- Safety rating system
Keeping America’s highways and byways a safe and effective mode of transportation for the movement of goods throughout the country is an ongoing effort in an industry that involves millions of workers with billions of dollars at stake each year. Despite the serious and well-intentioned implementation of safety regulations, trucks still crash, and people still get injured and killed every day.
Some facts related to the trucking industry show the prevalence of truck drivers on the road and their impact on the nation’s crash statistics:
- 3.5 million truck drivers
- 15.5 million trucks, 2 million of which are tractor-trailers
- 193.3 billion miles logged transporting goods by Class 8 trucks
- 3,852 people died in 2015 from large truck crashes
- USDOT estimates over 500,000 truck accidents per year
- Nearly 5,000 people killed in truck accidents every year
History of Trucking Regulations: A Long and Winding Road
Regulatory changes in the trucking industry have a lengthy and complex history in the United States dating back to the late 1800s when the federal government attempted to stop the railroads from overcharging freight rates. Since then, all parties involved in the transportation of goods by trucks – trucking companies, truck drivers, highway safety advocates, and the government – have attempted to strike a three-way balance; ensuring the safety of roadways throughout the country, allowing drivers to make a living, and enabling companies to transport their goods efficiently and economically.
Today, millions of truck drivers log billions of miles on the nation’s roadways every year. Technological advances and procedural improvements over the last 100 years have drastically changed the way transportation industry works.
The following timeline illustrates the brief history of regulatory changes in the United States transportation industry:
- 1887: U.S. Congress creates the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) to make sure small communities, or those with limited major transportation access, were not overcharged by the railroad industry.
- 1935: The ICC takes control of the trucking industry after successful lobbying efforts by the railroads.
- 1935: The Motor Carrier Act of 1935 requires new truckers to apply for a “certificate of public convenience and necessity” through the ICC.
- 1948: Congress enacts the Reed-Bulwinkle Act exempting trucking and railroad carriers from antitrust laws, authorizing trucking companies to fix rates.
- 1962: President John F. Kennedy recommends scaling back of regulations in the trucking industry.
- 1967: Department of Transportation is created to oversea braking and licensing standards, work hours, and more.
- 1975: President Gerald Ford calls for legislation to reduce regulations on the trucking industry, and appoints ICC commissioners who favored deregulation.
- 1980: With President Jimmy Carter’s support, the ICC makes several rulings that reduce federal oversight over the trucking industry. Congress then enacts the Motor Carrier Act of 1980, which decreases the authority the ICC has over the trucking industry.
- 1982: Size and weight limits for the trucking industry are set with the Surface Transportation Act of 1982.
- 1994: North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) passes.
- 1995: ICC is abolished, leaving the Surface Transportation Board as the Federal entity charged with administering remaining trucking industry regulatory functions.
- 1999: Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999 makes it illegal for Mexican trucking companies to lease vehicles and drivers to the United States. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is formed to reduce the frequency and severity of truck-involved accidents.
- 2004: New hours of service rules go into effect reducing on-duty driving time and increasing mandatory downtime between shifts.
- 2005: Upgraded requirements are instituted for drivers to carry “hazardous material endorsements” on their CDL, and implementing the fingerprinting of hazardous materials-endorsed drivers.
- 2007: Electronic cargo manifests are now required to be submitted to Customs and Border Protection for trucks entering the U.S. through ports of entry in Washington and Arizona, as well as select ports in North Dakota.
- 2016: Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issue tighter fuel economy rules for trucks to be made from 2019-2027.
Accidents Will Happen
With the sheer volume of these massive vehicles on the road every day and the daily need for their services to transport goods throughout the nation, collisions are bound to happen; people will inevitably be injured or killed, and liability will need to be determined for each case. It is incumbent on the regulatory government agencies and those in the industry to work together to keep the roads as safe as possible without compromising the integrity of the industry’s services.
Changes will continue to be made and regulations in the country’s transportation industries will continue to be implemented and adjusted as technology advances and administrations change. While considerations of politics, money, and power are always factors in the creation and amendment of rules and regulations, the safety and protection of all who share our nation's roadways must be prioritized at every stage of the process.