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October 16, 2014 10:30 AM, EDT

Poll: 80% Don’t Want Truckers’ Restricted Driving Hours Relaxed

ATA Calls Results Misleading
A new poll commissioned by a coalition of advocacy groups found that 80% of Americans believe Congress should not raise the number of hours a truck driver can be on the road to 82 hours from 70.

American Trucking Associations called the results “misleading,” while Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) called them a “game changer” that shows the public understands “too many hours on the road” leads to crashes.

Blumenthal and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) have introduced a bill to strip a rider from a spending bill that would suspend for one year the 34-hour restart provision in the hours-of-service rule pending a study on the restart’s effect.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced the restart rider, which is backed by the trucking industry but opposed by the Teamsters union, the Truck Safety Coalition and Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, who commissioned the poll.

Under the 2013 HOS rule, drivers are effectively limited to a five-day, 70-hour workweek because they’re required to rest on two consecutive days between midnight and 5 a.m.

Blumenthal said the poll shows that Americans understand the safety and work issues involved in the restart debate and “will hold accountable elected officials who dilute or dissolve this measure now on the books and, let’s be very clear, the threat here is to roll back and reverse progress already made.”

Joan Claybrook, chairwoman of the Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, and a former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, echoed Blumenthal’s comments.

“These are startling survey results and with elections around the corner, I hope that the politicians will pay attention to these numbers,” she said.

Claybrook and Blumenthal said, however, they agree with a recent poll commissioned by American Trucking Associations that found most Americans believe truck drivers are safer than passenger car drivers.

“The results of a misleading push poll should not be taken into consideration when crafting public policy — good data and research should be,” ATA President Bill Graves said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, FMCSA did not have such information — such as the impact the rules would have on increased daytime truck traffic and the corresponding elevated crash risk — when they drafted them.”

Joshua Ulibarri of Lake Research Partners, which conducted the safety advocates’ poll, said it was incorrect to characterize the survey as a “push poll,” a technique that gives potential respondents sometimes damaging information that can skew results in favor of those paying for a poll.

ATA pointed out that the poll question on the restart debate mentioned the name of Tracy Morgan, the comedian badly injured in a crash this summer on the New Jersey Turnpike.

The truck driver has been charged for not having slept for 24 hours preceding the crash, although when he was behind the wheel of the truck, he was within his legal driving hours.

Pollster Ulibarri said Morgan’s name was in the question asked of half the 1,000 respondents but that the other half was asked the same question without Morgan’s name mentioned.

In both cases, 80% of the respondents said they didn’t want Congress to suspend the restart rule, Ulibarri said.

In his statement about the poll, ATA’s Graves also said that Collins’ proposal would “simply suspend” the 2013 restart rule. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration could then “evaluate the true risks and the net impact on highway safety” of having what the trucking industry has said is more trucks on the road during peak traffic hours.

“We doubt any poll respondent would support these new restrictions that discourage drivers from taking lengthy rest periods, and that increase daytime truck traffic and raise crash risk,” Graves said.

“Furthermore, FMCSA has previously said that the alleged working hours envisioned by these industry critics are only possible in an ‘imaginary world,’ ” he added.

Graves cited the recent Public Opinion Strategies poll commissioned by ATA that asked 800 registered voters: “Would you prefer that trucks generally operate at night between midnight and 5 a.m., or during late morning and midday hours?

“This legitimate poll, in addition to finding that most Americans rightly believe that professional truck drivers are the safest drivers on the road — a point even conceded by our critics — found that Americans would prefer trucks operate at the time of day now restricted by FMCSA’s recent rule changes by a 67-24 margin,” Graves said.

“The Collins proposal would seek to suspend this time-of-day restriction in order to better understand the impact on daytime truck traffic and the net safety impact.”