Will the harrowing story of Douglas Balder bring new attention to federal laws?
A friend of mine called it the best story lead he has read all year. I could not argue with him.
“Illinois State Trooper Douglas Balder sat in his squad car, its red and blue lights strobing into the frozen night of Jan. 27, 2014. He was about to be set on fire,” wrote Michael McAuliff, senior Congressional reporter for the Huffington Post.
If you think that’s a good start you should read the rest of the article. On the one hand, Balder’s harrowing tale is a story of a miracle survival. On the other hand, it’s a blistering indictment of a Congress that has done little to keep stories like Balder’s from happening in the first place. And there are many people (including trial attorneys) who would make the argument that Congress has, in fact, been doing nothing at all.
McAuliff isn’t shy about putting it in perspective. In his piece, he uses Balder’s near-death experience—a consequence of a truck driver who fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into Balder’s cruiser, going at a speed over 60 miles per hour—to summarize the lack of attention (or sheer unwillingness) on the part of elected officials to keep people safe.
Here are the facts: Despite increasing crashes and fatalities over the past four years, Congress has floated the idea of lowering restrictions that would prevent drivers from driving too long, driving without the proper training, and driving without logging their records properly, all thanks to subversive lobbying in the battle for votes.
Unfortunately, the lobbyists are winning those battles.
Several proposals have been floated that would allow trucks to haul loads greater than the 80,000-pound limit; trailers could potentially increase from 28 feet per unit to 33 feet; truckers can potentially work up to 82 hours per week instead of the “already-exhausting,” as McAuliff puts it, 70 hours per week; and, perhaps at its worst, the minimum driving age for anyone operating a commercial vehicle could soon be as low as 18 years old. Companies are spreading employees too thin, drivers are working longer hours, and an industry that was left feeling the ill-effects of the Recession in 2008 is now trying to make up for lost money, crafting a system that is woefully shortsighted.
Truck-related deaths hit an all-time low in 2009, according to McAuliff. Those numbers have skyrocketed by more than 17% since the Great Recession. Yet, there doesn’t seem to be any sign of change.
McAuliff notes that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration crafted a proposal in 2012 that would have required overweight truckers to get tested for sleep apnea, only to withdraw it a week later after getting pushback from the trucking industry, all the while making plans to move forward with its own proposals, none of which have popular support among the populace.
From the article: “The Huffington Post and YouGov surveyed Americans on four of the proposals the industry has been pursuing through the backdoor: teen drivers, longer trucks, heavier trucks, and the relaxed hours-of-service rules. In every case, respondents to the survey opposed the moves — by large margins.”
- Lowering the age limit to 18? 24% Approve; 65% Disapprove
- Raising the weight limit to more than 90,000 pounds? 18% Approve; 57% Disapprove
- Allowing tractor trailers to be up to 80ft long? 19% Approve; 62% Disapprove
- Allowing truck drivers to work up to 82 hours per week? 17% Approve; 71% Disapprove
The statistics speak for themselves. If only people would care to listen.