I want to take a moment and bring you all up to date on the assault on safety happening right now in Congress. It’s happening quietly as summer blooms and everyone has other, more relaxing, things on their minds.
Let me explain.
Congress is trying to finish up on an Appropriations Bill for Fiscal Year 2016. It’s a huge bill and one that has to be resolved soon. The House has already put together their version and now it’s over on the Senate side.
You might remember I talked about the House amendment that would “de-fund“ the study (mandated in a previous bill) that would determine if the minimum required level of liability insurance a commercial carrier has to have is enough. The level is currently at $750,000 and hasn’t been updated since 1980 even though medical costs have skyrocketed since then. We fought to get that amendment taken out of the House bill, but it was approved by a wide margin. Amazingly members of the House didn’t even want a study to be done.
Now the bill is in the Senate and there are several problematic provisions including one that allows truckers to drive up to 82 hours per week and of course the delay regarding the minimum liability insurance. But worse is an amendment that will likely be offered as early as today by Senator Shelby of Alabama.
Senator Shelby is asking that Congress approve increasing 28-foot double trailers to 33-foot double trailers. That’s an additional 10 feet (5 on each trailer). This will mean the trucks will require an additional 6 foot rider turning radius and they will need an additional 22 feet to stop. Studies show that double 33s performed worse than double 28s in avoidance maneuvers. This adds to the risk of death and injury to any of us sharing the roads with these larger and potentially heavier trucks.
I spent time yesterday afternoon calling members of the Senate Appropriations Committee to ask that they vote NO on the Shelby Amendment. I started with the 15 Republicans on the committee as they are more likely to side with the trucking industry. It’s an uphill battle; no one wants to talk to someone not in their district. But neither Michigan Senator is on this committee and in order to be heard I have to get other Senators’ offices to listen to me. I have to remind them that as members of the Appropriations Committee they are supposed to be representing all Americans, not just those in their district. Generally they concede enough to put me through to someone’s voice mail.
It’s frustrating. If these provisions stay in the bill they will be signed into law by the President. Our roads will become even less safe than they are now. We’ve been fighting to lower the maximum hours of service allowed, we’ve been fighting to get minimum insurance increased, and we’ve been fighting against bigger, longer, and heavier trucks. We’ve made progress, but it’s like climbing a sand dune. One step up, then long slides down.
The trucking industry is now using large important bills that have to be passed, like the Appropriations Bill, to insert their agenda. It’s the only way to get anything passed in the political environment we face today. But safety issues don’t belong in a larger unrelated bill. That in itself is another battle.
I know this got long. I have to get going now, I have some more Democrats to reach this morning before they head into session. I’ll let you know how it goes. Our lives are depending on the outcome.