Ruled by fear

Be afraid. Be very afraid. That was the media’s message to motorists last month in newspaper coverage from New York to Chicago. Articles with headlines such as “Bone weary haulers raise stakes on road” and “Truckers’ long hours, high stress, take toll,” portrayed killer trucks driven by bleary-eyed drivers pushed beyond the breaking point.

The media blitz started on Dec. 3 with a New York Times article accusing the Bush administration of rejecting relaxing drivers’ hours by allowing a 34-hour restart and longer driving time. A week later, the Chicago Tribune profiled an exhausted, nearly bankrupt independent owner-operator who rarely eats, sleeps or bathes as he tries to “catch up” to meet his financial obligations, which include a $2,000 per month truck payment.

Not surprisingly, these articles coincided with a federal appeals court hearing on the much-maligned hours of service rule. On Dec. 4, the court heard arguments from safety advocacy group Public Citizen asking that the rule – which originally went into effect in January 2004 – be overturned for the second time. Public Citizen’s list of complaints includes the 34-hour restart, which can allow truckers to drive up to 77 hours in seven days, the increase in driving hours from 10 to 11, and the fact that on-board recorders are not mandated.

Merely repeating Public Citizen’s spin on truck safety statistics, the articles paint a bleak picture for motorists who daily share the road with big trucks. They cite the 5,000 annual deaths – most of the victims in passenger vehicles – from truck-related accidents, but fail to point out that the large truck fatal crash rate dropped 22 percent from 1993 to 2003. They talk about government “easing the hours rules,” but never mention that truckers can no longer stop the clock to repeatedly extend their workday.

As the debate over the hours truckers can drive rages on, most of you continue to do what you’ve done for years: deliver America’s freight on time, safely. Does that mean we don’t need to keep improving drivers’ working environment and our industry’s safety record? Absolutely not. But the way to facilitate such change is through reasoned, fact-based legal debate, not by trying an entire industry in the court of public opinion.

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Shame on the media for maligning thousands of hardworking Americans, all to help advance a one-sided regulatory agenda.