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Government Funding Bill Rolls Back Trucker Rest Requirements

The spending bill in Congress is not just about money. Tucked inside the bill are provisions to change regulations affecting everything from banking to the environment. One regulatory rollback has those concerned about truck safety especially upset.

The regulation is part of a series of rules that spell out the number of hours that long-haul truck drivers, the ones behind the wheel of the big rigs on the interstates, can be on the road.

Last year, a rule took effect that required those drivers to take two consecutive nights off after every 70 hours they spend behind the wheel.

The trucking industry, which didn't like the requirement in the first place, said it had an unintended consequence: It forced more truckers to take to the road early in the morning, when commuters and school buses are out.

"Those hours are less safe statistically," says Dave Osiecki, vice president of the American Trucking Association. "They're trying to reduce nighttime crashes? They may be causing daytime crashes."

No one knows yet if that rule caused the number of crashes to increase; the Department of Transportation hasn't compiled accident data for the past year. But Osiecki says truck crashes had been declining before the rule took effect.

He says the regulation has also hurt industry profits.

"You're talking about $1 billion in lost productivity to this industry," Osiecki says.

So the association and its congressional allies wrote a provision into the spending bill, undoing the rule, at least temporarily.

The Obama administration opposed the change, saying that driver fatigue is a leading factor in large truck crashes, which killed more than 3,500 people in 2012. Safety groups are angry, too.

"It stinks," says Daphne Izer, who founded Parents Against Tired Truckers after her son and three of his friends were killed by a truck driver who had fallen asleep behind the wheel on Maine's turnpike.

"Drivers will be allowed to drive up to 82 hours a week," Izer says. "That's insane. That's twice the normal work week, and drivers don't get paid overtime. It's going to be more death and destruction on our highways."

The provision in the spending bill also calls for a detailed study of the effect of the regulations on truck crashes. The measure only rolls back the new rules until next October, when both sides expect to resume their arguments.

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Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And the big spending bill in Congress is not just about money. Tucked into it are several provisions that would change regulations affecting everything from banking to the environment. And one regulatory rollback has those concerned about truck safety especially upset. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: The regulation is part of series of rules that spell out the number of hours that long-haul truck drivers, the ones behind the wheel of the big rigs on the interstates, can be on the road. Last year, a rule took effect that required those drivers to take a mandatory two consecutive nights off after every 70 hours they spent behind the wheel. On the face of it, the regulation doesn't sound that onerous, but the trucking industry, which didn't like the requirement in the first place, says it's had an unintended consequence. It's forced more truckers to take to the road early in the morning when commuters and school buses are out. Dave Osiecki is vice president of the American Trucking Associations.

DAVE OSIECKI: That is having the tendency to push some traffic, not every driver, but some truck traffic into the 6, 7, 8 a.m. hours when the rest of us are commuting to work. And those hours are less safe statistically. They're trying to reduce nighttime crashes, they may be causing daytime crashes.

NAYLOR: Now, Osiecki says, may be causing crashes. In fact, no one knows for sure if crashes are up or down because the Department of Transportation hasn't put out accident data for the past year yet. But Osiecki says truck crashes had been going down before the rule was changed last year. The rules have also hurt industry profits.

OSIECKI: You're talking about a billion dollars in lost productivity to this industry.

NAYLOR: So the industry and its congressional allies wrote a provision into the spending bill undoing, at least temporarily, the new rules requiring truckers take off those two nights in a row. The Obama administration opposed the change, saying that driver fatigue is a leading factor in large truck crashes, which killed more than 3,500 people in 2012. And safety groups are angry, too.

DAPHNE IZER: It stinks.

NAYLOR: That's Daphne Izer, who founded Parents Against Tired Truckers after her son and three of his friends were killed by a truck driver who had fallen asleep behind the wheel on Maine's turnpike.

IZER: Drivers will be allowed to drive up to 82 hours a week, work and drive. That's insane. That's twice the normal work week. And drivers don't get paid overtime. There's going to be more death and destruction on our highways.

NAYLOR: The provision in the spending bill also calls for a detailed study of the effect of the regulations on truck crashes. The measure only rolls back the new rules until next October. Both sides expect to resume their arguments then. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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