A Need for Rules

Truckers often call or send e-mails regarding the regulatory environment in which they work.

Few of these correspondents think there are too few rules. Indeed, trucking is one of the most regulated industries around. Truckers driving in interstate commerce must abide by a host of federal regulations on everything from hours of service to securing loads. Then there is drug testing, medical qualifications – the list goes on and on.

As if the federal rules were not enough, each state has its own set of rules. Some of these rules, such as split speed limits and lane restrictions, drive truckers nuts.
A common thread in the many calls and written communications we receive: “Why can’t the feds (or the states) just leave us alone to do our job?”

That’s a valid question – one that cropped up repeatedly during public hearings last year on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s proposed changes to the hours-of-service rules. A provision calling for mandatory weekends in every seven-day period received the bulk of that kind of criticism. During a hearing in Southern California last summer, a driver for a small Texas carrier said the weekend requirement might be the thing that forces her to turn her keys in. This driver said she could get by with five hours of sleep a night, and her ability to be flexible was a big part of her safety record.

We agree that as proposed these new rules would probably do little to increase safety on the highway while making it more difficult for drivers and fleets to operate efficiently. But we don’t agree with the premise that truckers don’t need rules to follow. And we believe that most of our readers agree with us.

We all like to believe we will do the right thing if left alone, but deep down, we know better. There are those of us who will always do the right thing when given a choice, probably most of us. But there are many others that will not.

James Madison, the father of the U.S. Constitution recognized this during the Constitution’s ratification debates. Madison wrote, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” The same is true of trucking regulations. If every driver on the road were “an angel” we wouldn’t need hours-of-service rules or speed limits or lane restrictions or drug testing.

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Since we are not all angels, we must give up some of our individual liberty to secure a measure of collective liberty. In essence, these rules force us to cooperate with each other. We cooperate with each other by driving on the right side of the road because the rules require that. The same goes for stopping at red lights. Most of us agree to follow these rules.

But we all know that not everyone wants to cooperate. Just about each week you can find a news story somewhere about a truck driver involved in an accident because of speeding or falling asleep behind the wheel. For instance, recent news reports claim the truck driver involved in the fatal Amtrak crash in Illinois two years ago may have been on the road for more than 30 hours prior to the accident.

Of course, rules by themselves can’t prevent accidents from occurring or ensure a safer driving environment. And we can all agree that some rules just don’t make sense from any perspective (how about lane restrictions for example). Plus, we don’t have enforcement personnel in each truck cab monitoring speed or driver fatigue. Instead, regulators depend upon our policing ourselves by following their rules. Veteran drivers know that making a habit of violating the rules is a blueprint for serious problems down the road.

Yes, trucking is highly regulated, perhaps too much so. But we can’t see any other way around that, until we can honestly say we are all angels.

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