At least twice a year, I find it absolutely necessary to clear my throat loudly from the back seat.
This is because about once every 150 days or so, I find myself locked into a car with a limousine driver who looks like he is about to use his steering wheel for a pillow. So every time I’m led into this potential sleeping chamber my eyes are now trained to stalk the eyes of the one who has my life in his weakening hands. I do this through the rearview mirror. That way when I catch his lids winning the power struggle I can create some kind of buzzing alarm from behind. However, the best obnoxious break in silence I can come up with is a little phlegm clearing. Sometimes I combine it with some sort of shuffling noise. Here I am trying to be as polite as I can while trying to avoid being pierced by a part of another car and quite possibly engulfed by a great ball of fire. Yes, it doesn’t make sense to me, either.
Yet there I was, making a trek to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport in December and watching my hired chauffer interact more with Mr. Sandman than myself. How he missed the concrete barrier on I-90 I do not know. Perhaps I was the one sleeping at that moment and dreamed nothing really happened.
Without making much of a sound, Congress passed a spending bill worth just over $1 trillion, and snuck in revisions regarding truckers and hours-of-service regulations. Those in Washington agreed it was time to go back to when big rig operators were able to push their wide-eyed stamina to the absolute limit, all while putting everyone they pass on the highway in danger. According to the Associated Press, there are about 4,000 fatalities each year due to large truck crashes, so I can totally see why our politicians felt the need to liberate these drivers to the point where violating the now current regulations will feel like a slap on the wrist from a piece of memory foam.
In 2003, the U.S. DOT said truck drivers could not work more than 14 hours at a stretch, and a decade later the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration dropped the number of total driver hours allowed in one week from 82 to 70. In addition, drivers needed to take a 34-hour rest that covered two periods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. In mid-December, Congress decided to go back to allowing 82 work hours a week and suspended the requirement that the 34-hour rest including two early-morning shifts.
I was reading an article about this change, one that centered around a trucker named Dick Pingel. He can’t make sense of any of the rules—old or new—and summed up his industry’s perspective perfectly with one quote: “If the wheels aren’t turning, you’re not earning.” Sounds like the makings of a country music hit, but more importantly it paints the desperation of a truck driver. His or her sole responsibility is to get goods from one end of the spectrum to another. The last thing they want is a federal ruling splattered all over their windshield.
Now most experts will tell you that truckers do not come close to the 82-hour maximum. I’m not so sure about that, and the completed expansion of the Panama Canal is only going to force more freight into our nation’s ports. In less than two years the demand to move it all will be even greater. The chaos will only multiply, so why expand the party room? Congress . . . AHEM . . . should have left the 70-hour maximum alone. R&B
Bill Wilson is the editorial director of ROADS & BRIDGES magazine and has been covering the industry since 1999. He has won seven Robert F. Boger Awards for editorial excellence, including three in 2011. He also was the creator of the Top 10, Contractor's Choice Awards and Recycling Awards platforms, as well as ROADS & BRIDGES Live.