Sparring Over Safety

Ladies and gentlemen! In this corner we have Annette Sandberg, wearing government-issue blue trunks, representing the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. And in the opposite corner, wearing the green trunks, is Joan Claybrook, representing Public Citizen, CRASH and a host of other safety advocates.

Fans have eagerly awaited this round ever since Joan delivered an apparent knockout punch to Annette last summer, when a lawsuit brought by Joan landed the revised hours-of-service rule, in effect since January, in a District of Columbia Circuit Court. The court promptly overturned the rule, saying it didn’t adequately consider driver health.

Despite this stunning blow, Annette managed to stay on her feet, enabling the trucking industry to continue operating under the new rule at least through this September. She even threw in a little fancy footwork, almost convincing Congress to write the revised rule into law as part of the massive reauthorization of the highway bill.

Joan’s backers cheered when the President signed the bill into law without codifying the hours rule. But Joan knew it was too soon to do a victory dance. She marshaled her supporters, primarily trial lawyers and grief-stricken relatives of large-truck accident victims, and prepared for the next round.

Annette and her entourage worked feverishly for months and on Aug. 19 issued yet another version of the hours rule, this one tweaked only slightly but backed by more extensive research to prove that the original rule was not detrimental to driver health.

Think the referee should raise Annette’s glove in victory? Not so fast, fight fans. Oddsmakers predict Joan, with her exceptional ability to sue, soon will be back in the ring to take another swing.

Who will be left standing at the end of the next round is anyone’s guess, but one thing’s for certain: The give and take between Annette and Joan can only benefit truckers in the long run. Chances are, Joan will continue to wear Annette down with a barrage of kidney punches designed to reduce your work hours. Annette will counter with well-placed jabs, steadily closing loopholes such as the split sleeper berth option that allowed carriers and shippers to tie up your time without pay and, in 2006, adding electronic on-board recorders to her repertoire.

This is a high-stakes match for everyone involved, but know this: The more constraints Annette and Joan put on your time, the more valuable it becomes. So take your ringside seats, and let’s get ready to rumble!

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