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Sensible legislation to prevent truck accidents faces opposition

Truck accidents are an all too common occurrence here in Colorado and across the nation. While we depend on giant tractor-trailers to move products throughout the United States, we should not have to accept the idea that serious and fatal accidents are simply the cost of doing business.

The most frequent causes of truck accidents are identifiable and preventable. They include driver fatigue, excessive speeding and inadequately maintained vehicles, just to name a few. So why are crashes still so common? Unfortunately, it is because the barriers to enacting common-sense safety reforms are not practical or technological; they are political.

A good example is the apparent opposition to a recently proposed bill in the U.S. Senate. Earlier this month, Senator Cory Booker introduced the Truck Safety Act, which seeks practical changes that could reduce driver fatigue, lower truck speeds and ensure that all trucking companies are adequately insured. Only one provision in the bill was publicly supported by the American Trucking Associations, an industry group.

Sen. Booker's bill would reduce driver fatigue by changing the way that truck drivers are compensated. Currently, most truckers are only paid for the time spent actually driving (or by miles traveled). There is no compensation for meal/rest breaks or the time spent waiting for cargo to be loaded or unloaded. Drivers should not have to choose between getting some much-needed sleep and getting paid. Sen. Booker's bill would ensure that truckers are compensated for the hours they actually work - not just the time that is spent driving.

The legislation would also double the minimum required insurance coverage for trucks from $750,000 to $1.5 million. This is to make sure that victims of truck accidents are not left uncompensated or undercompensated simply because trucking companies did not have sufficient insurance coverage.

As we mentioned earlier, the ATA supported only one provision in the bill, which was to finalize regulation mandating speed-limiting devices on trucks. Many companies already use such devices (which prevent trucks from traveling faster than a preset speed), but they are not yet universally required.

The trucking industry has a powerful lobbying presence in Washington, which is why it is so difficult to pass even common-sense reforms. Until or unless legislators are willing to put highway safety ahead of politics, truck accidents will continue to be a deadly and common hazard.

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