A Maine woman who pushed for tougher safety rules after her son and three of his friends were killed by a sleeping truck driver said Tuesday she will fight efforts to roll back regulations meant to keep tired truckers off the road.

Daphne Izer of Lisbon, 73, said she will be in Washington this month to lobby Congress to keep regulations that the Trump administration is soon expected to try to repeal. Though no specific proposal has been released, the rules believed to be up for repeal involve daily limits on the number of hours a truck driver can be behind the wheel and a requirement for a 30-minute break during an eight-hour stretch of driving.

“In the Trump administration, it’s been a continual rollback (of regulations) and it’s making the highways more dangerous and more people are going to get killed,” said Izer, who started Parents Against Tired Truckers in 1994, months after her son Jeff, 17, and three friends were killed when a truck driver who had fallen asleep slammed into their car in the breakdown lane on the Maine Turnpike. The driver spent three months in jail for falsifying a log book, but did not face other charges.

Four teenagers from the Lewiston area were killed in October 1993 when they pulled their car into the breakdown lane on the Maine Turnpike and a truck plowed into the car. The truck’s driver had falsified his logs and fallen asleep. The victims, left to right, were Jeff Izer, 17, and Angie Bubuc, 16; Dawn Marie Welding, 15; and Katie Leighton, 14. Sun Journal file photo

Parents Against Tired Truckers eventually merged with a similar group and relocated from Maine to Alexandria, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C. Izer remains co-chair of the new organization, the Truck Safety Coalition.

Izer said any move to increase the hours a driver spends on the road “will make it worse” and is a step in the wrong direction. The current rules cap daily driving time at 14 hours, with a three-hour break, in addition to the 30-minute break during an eight-hour stretch.

“Why increase time on road?”  said Izer, who also blames the industry’s preference to pay truckers by the mile for an emphasis on speed over safety.

Brian Parke, the president and chief executive officer of the Maine Motor Transport Association, a trade group for the trucking industry, said one rule in particular is opposed by truckers – the one calling for a 30-minute break for every eight hours driving.

Parke said drivers know the importance of breaks, but want the timing and length left to the truckers’ discretion.

Drivers want breaks “when they need them, not when they’re told to take them,” he said.

“The trucking industry understands their important role in highway safety,” Parke said and, because of that, the industry doesn’t have a knee-jerk negative reaction to any regulations. He also said truckers’ pay is based on a variety of factors and dismissed the role of paying by the mile as a safety consideration.

In Maine, about 32,000 people are employed in the trucking industry, Parke said. There are nearly 6,000 trucking companies in the state, he said and, like many Maine industries, its biggest challenge is finding qualified drivers as the work force ages and more drivers and other industry workers retire.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, wants to see precisely how the administration wants to change regulations before deciding whether she supports the effort, her spokeswoman said.

Five years ago, Collins forced the Obama administration to hold off on imposing tougher rules on weekly driving limits until the impact of the regulations could be studied. Once it was determined that the rules would not enhance safety, the regulations were scrapped.

Collins chairs the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, so her opinion on the regulations carries extra weight in Washington. In a statement, she said regulations on the hours a driver can spend behind the wheel “are an important tool to prevent trucker fatigue, and any modification must be backed by data to ensure that safety is not adversely impacted.”

Izer’s organization said the data don’t support changing the rules. In a statement, the Truck Safety Coalition said the rule withstood a court challenge and was based on research, including a study that found that the risk of a crash “increases significantly” for a driver after seven hours behind the wheel.

“These changes will not improve safety and will in some cases, diminish safety,” said Harry Adler, executive director of the coalition. “Flexibility is the pitch (behind the push for changes), yet there’s a huge cost to it.”

Izer said that in addition to lobbying against any changes in driver regulations, she and her group also will promote a bill that would require large trucks to be fitted with devices to cap their speed at 65 mph.

The October 1993 crash that killed Jeff Izer and his friends helped galvanize public pressure for better oversight and tougher regulation of truckers and truck safety.

The four teens were from the Lewiston area on their way to a hayride in Gorham, when their car overheated and they pulled over into the breakdown lane. Killed along with Izer were his girlfriend, Angie Bubuc, 16 and friends Dawn Marie Welding, 15, and Katie Leighton, 14.

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