Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater is going all-out to focus the nation’s attention on transportation safety.
Tuesday and Wednesday in Washington, D.C., the Department of Transportation hosted the first-ever National Transportation Safety Conference, gathering representatives of all modes from government, trade associations, labor unions and citizen’s groups to begin a dialogue on how to improve safety.
“We are going to focus sharply, with vision and vigilance, on safety and making a real difference for the next millennium,” said Slater in remarks broadcast by satellite to audiences in Detroit, Atlanta and San Francisco. The attendees – numbering 300-plus in Washington – were asked to “Sign on for Safety” by pledging alertness to such safety fundamentals as driving sober, buckling seat belts, obeying speed limits and avoiding unnecessary risks.
The conference provided a forum for an exchange between Walter McCormick, president of the American Trucking Associations, and Joan Claybrook of CRASH.
McCormick told the group that three things are needed to prevent fatigue in trucking: education and training; more roadside rest areas; and – ATA’s top policy priority – reform of the hours of service rules.
McCormick is pushing for a “negotiated rulemaking” to break the logjam on hours of service reform. Typically, federal rules are created through a process of proposals by an agency, followed by public comment and then a rulemaking. What McCormick wants is a reversal of the process: the hours of service players come up with a solution, then present it to the government. The traditional approach has failed, and there is precedent for this approach, he said.
But Claybrook is vehemently opposed to this idea. She assailed ATA, saying she will never sit down to negotiate a rule that will lead to longer duty periods for truck drivers.
McCormick replied that ATA has not specified that it wants longer duty hours. What the industry wants is a science-based rule, he said. That could lead to more hours, but only if the science of fatigue shows that longer hours are safe, he said.