U.S. Department of Transportation
Office of Public Affairs
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, August 9, 2000
Contact: Ben Langer
Let's Not Miss an
Opportunity to Improve Safety on the Highways
by Rosalyn G. Millman and Clyde J. Hart Jr.
When Congress returns in
early September, it will have the opportunity to make real progress in the fight
against the carnage on this country's streets and highways. Motor vehicle
crashes kill more than 40,000 people every year. Two provisions in the Senate
transportation funding bill, one promoting a national standard for
alcohol-impaired driving and the other governing hours behind the wheel for
commercial truck and bus drivers, will significantly affect -- one positively
and the other negatively -- the number of dead and injured on our roads.
The first provision in the
Senate bill would help states take drivers impaired by alcohol off the roads.
This provision would be good for America, would save lives, and should become
law. We have reduced the number of alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes, but
they are still killing almost 16,000 people every year -- one every 33 minutes.
Together we can do more,
and the Senate provision is a way to do it. The measure would withhold certain
federal highway construction funds from states that do not adopt and enforce
within six years a .08 blood alcohol concentration (BAC) standard as the level
at or beyond which a driver is too impaired to drive safely. Eighteen states now
use this sensible limit.
No driver with a .08 BAC
can operate a motor vehicle safely because his or her judgment, attention,
reaction times and other critical safe driving skills are severely diminished.
The science is clear: at .08 BAC, drivers should not be behind the steering
wheel of a motor vehicle. They are a threat to themselves and everyone else on
When Congress passed a
similar withholding provision for the 21-year-old minimum drinking age, states
quickly changed their laws to eliminate "blood borders" between states
with different minimum drinking ages. These laws have reduced traffic fatalities
involving drivers 18 to 20 years old by 13 percent. When Congress passed a
similar withholding provision for zero tolerance for underage drinking, 25
states changed their laws within three years to join the 25 that had already
adopted the provision.
Now is the time for
national acceptance of .08 BAC as the standard for alcohol-impaired driving, by
enacting a tough law that includes a withholding provision. Despite what some in
the alcohol and hospitality industries argue, it will save hundreds of lives
every year. Congress can do this by including the Senate .08 BAC provision in
the final version of the transportation funding bill.
The second provision would
prevent the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) from continuing a
proceeding to reform the hours-of-service (HOS) regulation for commercial truck
and bus drivers, taking dangerous drivers off the roads. This provision would be
bad for America. It would permit unsafe practices to continue, allowing fatigued
truck and bus drivers behind the wheel, and should not be enacted.
The current regulation,
dating back to the 1930s, is not effective. It allows drivers to operate on a
schedule that guarantees increasing fatigue -- up to 15 hours on, 10 of
which are driving, with only eight hours off. With so little time off, drivers,
especially as they begin their second and third consecutive shifts, don't have
enough time to rest before beginning again to navigate a large truck or bus down
In 1995, Congress told
USDOT to study the hours-of-service problem and offer suggestions for change. In
1999, Congress passed an act to create the Federal Motor Carrier Safety
Administration to improve truck and bus safety. Our proposal, announced on April
25, 2000, is a response to that legislation. The proposal is based on a 24-hour
body clock and seeks to reduce excessive driving schedules, taking into account
the need for adequate rest periods. The regulatory process requires
consideration of public comment and Congressional review before any new
resulting regulation can be put into effect. Continuing it allows a full airing
of all the HOS issues and points of view.
To date, we have received
more than 50,000 comments on this proposal, and they continue to arrive -- the
comment period which was scheduled to run until the end of October will be
extended because of the tremendous response we have received. We have already
learned a great deal about the effect of our proposal on the safety concerns of
the trucking industry, shippers, drivers and their operations. This additional
knowledge and the extended comment period will help us craft a solid, final
regulation that will achieve our collective goals: saving lives. This process,
left alone, will lead to a balanced, effective and fair rule.
However, many trucking
industry interests seem opposed to reform. They prevailed upon their
Congressional allies to place a provision in the Senate bill that would prevent
the USDOT from spending any funds to continue this "or any similar rule
making" -- in short, shutting down the regulatory process. This is
not a case of the USDOT rushing a proposal to completion before the end of the
Clinton Administration. This is raw use of political power by specific trucking
interests to stop progress.
Fatigue is a significant
and growing factor in accidents in all modes of transportation. Truck driver
fatigue is the main or contributing factor in 15 percent of all commercial
vehicle accidents, 755 deaths and more than 19,000 injuries every year.
Reforming the hours-of-service rule -- and ensuring that drivers follow it -- is
a much-needed step in reducing this horrendous toll. But we cannot move to do so
if the USDOT is prohibited from collecting information and comments and using
what we learn to revise the current, outdated hours-of-service regulation. We
want to continue this effort so that the number of truck crashes decreases.
There will be fewer deaths and injuries if we can reduce the number of
commercial drivers falling asleep at the wheel.
As the names of our two
agencies indicate, safety is our primary mission and the top transportation
priority of the Clinton Administration. We will continue to work in partnership
with Congress and the states to address the problems of alcohol- and
fatigue-related crashes. And by doing so, together we will make America's
streets and highways safer for all.
# # #
(Rosalyn G. Millman is the
deputy administrator of the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway
Traffic Safety Administration, and Clyde J. Hart Jr. is the acting deputy
administrator of the Department's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.)