Safety regulations often take years to come to fruition. The formal rulemaking process can take years of costly effort, including a lengthy period of litigation where the industry has a chance to challenge new rules in court. If the rule has no advocates in Congress, it’s likely for proposals to never escape the committee phase.
So when a proposed rule makes it nearly all the way through the process, it has undergone years of study, vetting, litigation, and testing before becoming a formal regulation. It’s not a hasty process, as government agencies take years to find a balance between a free market and public safety.
Since fall 2016, the Department of Transportation has repealed, withdrawn, or delayed over 12 safety rules in the middle of development (and some that were already adopted). Most of these rules were withdrawn by the agency heads themselves, many of whom used to lobby for the industries they now “regulate.”
No new rules have been proposed or adopted over the same period.
“These Rules Have Been Written in Blood”
Among the rules nixed by the DOT is a requirement that would have had the states inspecting commercial bus operators once a year for safety protocols. Another would require railroad operators to assign 2 crew members to a train. A third would have required automakers to equip future cars and light trucks with vehicle-to-vehicle communication to prevent crashes.
Each of these rules has one thing in common:
They were created in the wake of tragedy to prevent further loss of life.
“These rules have been written in blood,” says John Risch, the legislative director for the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers. In response to safety advocates, the DOT has often responded with a simple explanation: the rules were simply too expensive to justify. However, that doesn’t explain the DOT’s withdrawal of a speed limiter rule that would have benefited the economy.
This rule alone would have (according to DOT research):
- Saved 500 lives a year
- Saved society $475 million to $5 billion in costs
- Cut deaths from heavy truck crashes in half
The ATA (a trucking trade association) originally supported the rule, but withdrew their support when the DOT considered limiting speed to 1 of 3 speeds: 60, 65, and 68 mph.
Last summer, a controversial rule was withdrawn that would have screened train engineers, bus drivers, and truckers for sleep apnea. Experts believe that sleep apnea makes transportation workers 5 times more likely to crash on the road, and the NTSB cites sleep apnea as the cause of 13 recent rail and highway accidents it has investigated—including commuter train crashes in 2016 and 2017.
The Answer Is in the Court’s Hands
As difficult and time-consuming as it may be, there’s more than one way to steer an industry toward safer practices. When federal agencies take a hands-off approach to the nation’s highways, it’s up to the citizens and courts to keep trucking companies in check. If it becomes more expensive for the trucking industry to keep doing what they’re doing, they’ll have to change.
So what can people do? They can keep advocating for safer rules when the DOT asks for comments form the public, and they can sue trucking companies to hold them accountable in court. Trucking companies and their insurers often have funds dedicated to litigation, and like the DOT, gauges the cost of new practices against the cost of business as usual.
The more that accident survivors hold trucking companies accountable for poor safety practices, the more that industry leaders will need to change the way they do things to make highways better for everyone. That’s been our mission from the beginning.
If you were hurt in a truck accident, you can’t undo what happened—but you can make sure that no one else has to suffer for it. Meanwhile, we can help you get back on your feet while you recover. Call Arnold & Itkin to learn how we can help you get back to normal.