MULVIHILL: Preserve truck safety reforms

Existing requirements for truckers and companies keep everyone safer on the road

op-semitruck-courtesywikimedia

Large trucks are a serious threat to other drivers on the road.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

On Nov. 29, NPR reported on the Trump administration’s plans to roll-back certain regulatory reforms in the trucking industry made under former President Barack Obama. The reforms under threat include a measure requiring that truckers be tested for sleep apnea and a plan to mandate speed-limiting devices in all large trucks. Several other technological projects to improve the safety of trucks themselves were also halted by the Trump administration. Though truckers call their industry one of the most over-regulated in the United States, safety requirements should not be pushed aside. Truckers are certainly not always to blame when it comes to accidents on U.S. highways, but the large size of their vehicles provides the opportunity for considerable damage in the event of a small mistake. For this reason, the current group of regulations should be kept in place and technological research on road safety should be prioritized.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s most recent available data, 3,852 people died in 2015 from large truck crashes. Of this large number, 69 percent of fatalities were passengers in smaller vehicles. Large trucks pose a hazard to passenger vehicles on the road, simply because of their size, so any effort to make them safer should be wholeheartedly supported. The Obama administration sought to require all companies to install underride guards on large trucks, which NPR explains, “would stop a car in a collision before the passenger compartment could wedge under the trailer.” There was also a regulation in the works to mandate speed-limiting devices in trucks. However, these efforts have stalled under the Trump administration and a loss of regulation in the trucking industry could lead to more deaths on the road.

Furthermore, a rule drafted in the Obama era requiring that truck drivers be screened and treated for sleep apnea has stalled as well. Though it may seem invasive to require truckers be tested for sleep apnea, the disease is the leading cause of abnormal sleepiness in the daytime and its detrimental effects on sleep quality can affect the quality of a trucker’s work. Furthermore, a 2016 study by Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that, when truckers suffering from sleep apnea do not strictly adhere to a treatment program, they have a rate of preventable crashes five times higher than their counterparts who do not suffer from the disease. One of 2016’s most deadly crashes involved a large truck and a bus, where both drivers fell asleep and were later found to have undiagnosed sleep apnea. The sleep apnea rule would help reinforce safe driving practices and would provide additional protections for drivers behind the wheel and the passengers with whom they share the road. 

While some may argue that over-regulation of industry stunts the ability for self regulation, halting safety-related research poses no benefit to either truck drivers or passengers in smaller vehicles. If changes aren’t made, the same negative effects will continue and deaths on the road could rise in the future. Robert Sumwalt, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board stated, “We see these issues [driver fatigue] in crash after crash, and we're tired, yes we are tired, of seeing commercial drivers being tired.” 

Many of our nation’s worst accidents are caused by recurring issues that these new regulations could address, but they must be given a chance to make change. Several of these regulations were stalled before they could even have a significant effect on the industry. If the United States hopes to have improved outcomes on the road and prevent the deaths of both truckers and passengers, regulation is necessary. The Obama era reforms were the first step in the right direction in terms of providing a safer traveling environment and, as a result, the Trump administration should embrace these ideas, not erase them.  

Carly Mulvihill is the Senior Associate Opinion Editor for The Cavalier Daily. She may be reached at c.mulvihill@cavalierdaily.com

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