AUGUSTA — Both here in Maine and across our country, the safety of our roads is a top priority. In order to have safe roads, our nation’s safety laws and regulations must be driven by good policy and good data.

Maine’s senior senator, Susan Collins, is a longtime champion of the safety of our roads and has proven through her actions that she is committed to making our roads safer through reasonable, data-driven safety improvements.

I have the honor of representing Main Street businesses across our state, including independently owned and operated grocery stores and supermarkets. Many of these businesses rely on trucks to transport goods. It is of the highest importance to our local businesses that these trucks are safe for the driving public and for commercial drivers.

For this reason, we pay special attention to safety provisions included in the transportation funding bill that Congress must pass every year. Sen. Collins is chairman of the Senate committee responsible for this important legislation. Under her leadership, the committee unanimously passed this bipartisan bill 30-0. The full Senate is expected to consider the bill this week, and each senator will have the opportunity to offer amendments and openly debate the bill on the Senate floor.

Unfortunately, a few so-called “safety groups” have sought to deliberately spread misinformation about the important safety provisions included in this overwhelmingly bipartisan bill. These unfair, perplexing and inaccurate statements center on what is called the “restart rule” – and they must be addressed.

This complicated rule is very important to the safety of our roads. Under current law, truck drivers may not drive more than 60 hours in a seven-day period or 70 hours in an eight-day period unless the driver takes a minimum of a 34-hour rest period to reduce fatigue. This rule allows a driver to restart his or her weekly clock after the 34-hour rest period.

Since the restart rule went into effect in 2004, fatal truck crashes have declined by 25 percent. When accounting for increased truck traffic, the reduction is more than 40 percent. For this reason, Sen. Collins has long fought to protect it.

In 2013, the federal Department of Transportation imposed two restrictions to the restart rule without conducting research.

Instead of making our roads safer, the 2013 restrictions pushed more truck traffic onto the highways during the morning rush hour, when America’s commuters were going to work and children were heading to school, and limited the driver’s ability to take additional rest periods and restart his or her clock. The number of truck crashes leading to injury is five times greater between 6 a.m. and noon than during the overnight period of midnight to 6 a.m.

Furthermore, the DOT admitted that it did not consider the safety and congestion impacts of large trucks being forced onto our highways in the daytime rush hour before imposing these new restrictions.

To address this failure, Sen. Collins successfully advocated for a bipartisan suspension of these two new restrictions in 2014 while leaving in effect the other hours of service restrictions. The provision required the DOT to study the unintended effect of these restrictions, including shifting more trucks to the time when traffic is the heaviest. This common-sense solution helps keep our roads safe.

Without an important technical correction to the recently enacted bipartisan transportation funding bill, however, the restart rule is in jeopardy of lapsing when the DOT releases the results of its study.

Sen. Collins has worked to ensure that the important restart rule is preserved.

Moreover, this bill goes one step further by eliminating the improbable possibility that any driver – even on his or her busiest week – could manipulate the restart rule and drive up to nine more hours after having worked more than 73 hours a week. It is important to note that this limitation of 73 hours includes not just driving time, but also the required pre-trip and post-trip inspections, time spent loading and unloading and the required meal breaks. This bipartisan provision implements a pro-safety cap for the first time, eliminating even the chance that a driver could drive after having worked 73 hours in a week.

This bill would not change the limit on the number of hours a driver can be behind the wheel each day or the total number of hours (10) a driver must be off duty between shifts. Nor would it change the mandatory 30-minute rest break during a shift.

I am the leader of one of more than 80 associations that support Sen. Collins’ efforts to preserve the pro-safety restart rule. I applaud her unwavering commitment to keeping our roads safe and to ensuring that our public policy is based on data and facts.

 

filed under: