HAMPDEN — We can all agree with the premise of the June 9 editorial, “Our View: Don’t put more tired truckers on our roads.” Neither the trucking industry, our customers, nor anyone else wants to see accidents caused by driver fatigue. Laws are intended to help prevent this. And let’s be clear – if a driver breaks the law, he or she should be punished.

The problem, however, is that changes to the federal motor carrier safety regulations that were meant to make our roads safer are having unintended consequences. As a result, the new rules could actually have the opposite result. These changes may seem minor and innocuous enough, but they are preventing many drivers from being able to work when they are most rested.

The trucking industry’s “hours of service” regulations are complicated. They define and regulate such things as on-duty time, off-duty time, required breaks, weekly driving limits, cumulative on-duty maximums and how a driver “resets” their weekly duty status.

The new rules imposed last July changed only two things: They require a truck operator to take a half-hour break after being on duty for eight hours, and they change how a driver could get what’s called a “restart.”

In order to get a restart, a driver must take at least 34 consecutive hours off duty. This requirement is a good thing, because professional truck drivers want what we all want: well-rested and alert operators behind the wheel. The restart also makes it easier for dispatchers to plan ahead and match a rested driver with available work.

But the new requirement prohibits drivers from taking more than one restart a week, and it requires that drivers take two consecutive periods off between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m.

These arbitrary new rules force some drivers who have already spent the required time off the road to wait until 5 in the morning to get back on the road, joining commuters going to work and school buses transporting children. This is not the best time to load gasoline for delivery at busy convenience stores. This is contrary to the goal of safer roads. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s own data show crashes are far less likely to occur overnight and are four times more likely to occur after 6 a.m.

With strong support from U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, the Senate Appropriations Committee recently voted to temporarily suspend two provisions that the federal government implemented without proper study and analysis, pending appropriate studies.

Sen. Collins’ proposal, which was accepted on an overwhelmingly bipartisan basis, would not roll back decades-old safety laws. It would not allow drivers to work or drive more hours each day, nor would it relax the mandatory break they must take during each shift. It would not alter the current implementation of electronic log devices.

As Sen. John Tester, D-Mont., said at the hearing, “I honestly believe that … the Collins amendment will make drivers more rested, not less.”

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, didn’t support the amendment but praised Sen. Collins for being “on the side of safety and trying to find a solution.”

The fact is, under the previous rule that had been in effect for a decade, safety improved without disrupting our nation’s economy.

From 2003 to 2012, truck-involved fatalities dropped by 21 percent, and the number of truck-involved crashes dropped 27 percent over that same period. These highway safety improvements were made with the industry driving more than 50 billion additional miles in 2012 compared with 2003.

The men and women who drive our nation’s trucks want a safe workplace. I am proud to have worked in the trucking industry for 42 years. I am proud to be connected to the thousands of highly trained and skilled truck drivers who deliver freight throughout Maine and the United States.

These professionals safely deliver goods that build homes, bridges and highways. They deliver food, fuel and countless other items to meet our basic needs. The vast majority do it safely and responsibly.

Sen. Collins realizes this, too, which is why she continues to advocate for these reasonable safety improvements to the trucking industry’s hours-of-service rules. She astutely realizes that our economy needs the efficient movement of goods to thrive. Placing counterproductive impediments in the way of those who help the economy move is in no one’s interest.

— Special to the Press Herald