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Is Congress using Zika to weaken truck safety and allow truckers to extend driving time?

Written by Steve Gursten Posted July 7th, 2016

Sad but true: Funding to battle the mosquito-borne virus is tied to a bill that would allow tired truckers to stay on the road for more than 80 hours a week

semi-truck-highwayMeasures that would allow truck drivers to work more than 80 hours a week – up from the current HOS limit of 70 – are underway.

Our attorneys would never advocate for truckers to drive longer. In fact, the link is very clear between driver fatigue and the likelihood of being involved in a preventable truck accident. Some of the most serious truck collision cases that our Roundtable attorneys have litigated had involved driver fatigue and violations of hours of service.

But the powerful, deep-pocketed trucking lobby has found a new, creative, and very disturbing way to advocate for more hours on the road for tired truckers: Tying the proposal to a bill that would fund Zika virus protection in the U.S.

Here’s what’s happening… The Senate recently passed a measure that allows 73 hours of driving and an additional 8.5 hours on related work each week as part of a massive spending measure that will fund transportation, housing and military construction projects, as well as the Veterans Administration. Funding for Zika prevention was also added to that bill, making it very likely to pass.

This is according to a story on Huff Post Politics, “Congress Using Zika to Weaken Truck Safety”:

“In the House, measures were added to the transportation and housing appropriations bill under consideration in the committee that set similar rest rules, reverting to regulations originally set in the Bush administration that were repeatedly challenged and thrown out in lawsuits.

Both bills would prevent the Obama administration from enforcing a regulation that briefly went into effect in 2013 that effectively capped truck drivers’ working hours at 70 a week, and ensured they could have two nights off in a row. That rule was blocked by a rider in a 2014 spending bill, which had to pass to avert a government shutdown.”

The newly inserted policy provisions represent a trend over the last three years of the trucking industry using “must-pass” spending bills to win regulatory concessions that are opposed by most safety advocates and likely could not pass standing alone. In this case, not only do the bills fund major parts of the government, they provide funding to fight Zika, a mosquito-transmitted disease that is said to potentially affect pregnant women.

It’s absolutely under-handed and shameful. Why should the interests of the trucking lobby come before public safety of all of the innocent drivers on our roads – especially when they’re effectively pushing their agenda through with important public health and welfare bills?

To make matters worse, there have been no congressional hearings on these proposals. We’re not surprised the trucking industry doesn’t want to hear from consumer safety advocates and truck accident attorneys like myself who represent the families of people who were tragically killed by tired truckers. We are not surprised the politicians pushing this cynical measure to weaken truck safety do not want to hear from those who were injured and disabled for the rest of their lives in serious truck wrecks.

One person they should hear from is Tracy Morgan. Recall the crash that injured Tracy Morgan and killed his friend was caused by a trucker, Kevin Roper, who was driving well in excess of the hours of service, and without having slept in 24 hours.

We’ve written about tired truckers and the connection between fatigue and truck wrecks. We know unequivocally that more rest for truck drivers and less hours on the road means less crashes. In fact, sleep deprivation plays a causal role in approximately 100,000 motor vehicle accidents a year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).  Some studies have put the number as high as 40% of all crashes involving large commercial motor vehicles.


About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group. He has been named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. Steve was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case. He has received the top reported truck accident jury verdict and top reported truck accident settlement in Michigan for multiple years, according to published year-end compilations of all jury verdicts and personal injury settlements by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has been named a "Top 50 Super Lawyer," by SuperLawyers, is listed in Best Lawyers in America, and has been awarded an AV-rating by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating for legal ability and ethics. Steve speaks to lawyers throughout the country on truck accident litigation. He is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, head of Michigan Auto Law, and has dedicated his legal career to making our roads safer.
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