Acting Administrator, a Former Industry Executive, Waives Required Rest Time for Drivers
Jim Mullen, acting administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, temporarily waived a rule regarding work breaks. Many drivers of large commercial trucks were to take 10-hour breaks after 14 hours of work if their trucks are delivering essential supplies. Medical supplies, food and fuel are counted as essential.
Peter Kurduck, the general counsel for Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety, said it is understandable that during the pandemic there is a need to waive the rule with limited exemptions.
Under the Obama administration federal regulators limited many truckers’ work to 70 hours in eight days to try to reduce crashes by exhausted drivers.
The rate of fatal large truck crashes is increasing. From 2016 to 2017, the most recent numbers, the rate increased by 6%. In 2017, 4,761 people were killed in crashes involving trucks that weigh more than 10,000 pounds.
Some of the horrific crashes have involved Werner Enterprises, the Omaha, Neb., trucking company where Mullen was the executive vice president and general counsel. In February 2017, Kathryn Armijo, 54, was killed near Las Cruces, N.M., after a student driver in his eighth day of driving for Werner crossed four lanes of traffic and a median before hitting her SUV. A jury ordered Werner Enterprises to pay about $40.5 million in damages, but the case was later settled.
In 2014, 7-year-old Zack Blake was killed and his 12-year-old sister was left a quadriplegic in an accident on Interstate 20 in Odessa, Texas, during freezing rain. The driver of the pickup truck the children occupied lost control and hit a Werner truck. The commercial driver’s license manual instructs drivers of 18-wheelers to slow to a crawl and get off the road in icy conditions. A jury awarded almost $90 million in damages for that crash. Werner is appealing the verdict.
Called Rule ‘Overreach’
In 2015, Mullen told senators the Obama trucking regulations were “government overreach of the worst kind.” The safety administration under Mullen has proposed changing those rules, but the final rule hasn’t been released.
Derek Leathers, the president and CEO of Werner Enterprises, joined Trump at a Rose Garden ceremony in 2018 to celebrate the Trump tax plan being passed. Leathers said the tax cut helped Werner Enterprises raise driver pay by an average of $2,400.
Truck driver salaries have dropped by as much as 50% since 1980 when the trucking industry was deregulated under President Jimmy Carter. Andrew, a truck driver, said it is difficult to earn a living now driving trucks and supported Mullen lifting the hours truckers can work during the pandemic.
Chris Spear, the president and CEO of American Trucking Associations, criticized the $89.7 million Texas verdict. About $43 million of the award was for the medical care of the 12-year-old girl, Brianna.
“It’s time to go on the offensive and tell our story to the policymakers,” Spear said in October. “It’s time to take the Hill.”
Days later, Ray Martinez, the Senate-confirmed head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, announced he was leaving the job. Mullen as the acting administrator does not need to be confirmed by the Senate.
Featured image: Rich Birdsall, an on-air personality at WHWK radio in Binghamton, N.Y., shot this image of a 2016 triple tractor-trailer crash on Interstate Highway 81.