In a week, families all over the country will pack up their cars and make a trip to the beach, to a family picnic or just to get away from day-to-day life for the holiday weekend.
And if the trucking industry had its way, those families would be sharing the interstate with semi-truck drivers who are exhausted from working more than 80 hours a week.
If that sounds reckless and unbelievably unsafe for both the public and the drivers, that’s because it is.
Nearly 4,000 people die in large truck crashes each year, and driver fatigue is a leading factor according to the Department of Transportation.
Take truck driver Dana Logan, who recently told reporters the heartwrenching story about how she personally witnessed another truck driver fall asleep and ram an SUV from behind.
The SUV was slammed underneath Logan’s trailer, shearing off the top of the SUV and decapitating the two fathers and two children inside.
The truck driver who had fallen asleep and rammed the SUV managed to ask one last question before he died, simply “Did I hit something?”
More famously back in June of 2014, a Walmart truck driver had been awake for more than 28 hours when he slammed his truck into actor Tracy Morgan’s limo van, killing one passenger and leaving Morgan in a coma for two weeks.
We all drive on the roads, so this is definitely a matter of public concern.
So when will the public comment period be on this proposal to let trucking companies push their drivers even beyond an 80-hour week?
When will the public get to weigh in on whether the truck drivers are allowed to work themselves to exhaustion and threaten public safety?
That’s because these measures are being inserted into a must-pass spending measure that includes funding for transportation, funding for housing and military construction projects, funding for the Veterans Administration (VA), as well as new funding for Zika prevention in the United States.
Both the House and the Senate versions of this legislation would block the Obama administration from enforcing a regulation that requires workers to take two days in a row off per week, and caps truck drivers’ hours at 70 a week.
And as The Huffington Post points out, bribing — excuse me, “making campaign contributions to” — compliant congressmen to use this sort of legislative backdoor to roll back safety regulations is something that the trucking industry has been doing for at least the last three years.
But it’s not just the trucking industry that does this, pretty much every lobbying group on Capitol Hill can pull a few strings to get riders inserted into must-pass spending bills, and even though they rarely have anything to do with the larger bill, they always have a clear benefit to special interest factions.
In the last few years we’ve seen spending bills amended with industry-friendly riders that would roll back clean water protections and net neutrality rules, to defund Planned Parenthood, to defund Obamacare, to gut the National Labor Relations Board and thus block a litany of safety regulations, and the list goes on and on.
This rider that would let truckers work up to 83 hours, which is more than two full work weeks, in a row, is a prime example of how broken our legislative process is.
The fact that there are no public hearings on any of these things isn’t a sign of how busy Congress is, instead, it’s a sign that our lawmaking process is set up so that lawmakers only get input from industry about how Congress can help industry, at the expense of public safety and the common good.
So far in 2016, the members of the House have taken a full week off during every single month of this year, and they’ve actually been in session for only 59 days. The Senate was only in session for 65 days.
There have been 95 working days and only five public holidays in 2016, and considering the fact that every single representative is up for reelection this year, you can be certain that they’ve been spending their weekends and weeks off hustling campaign donations.
And now the Republicans in Congress are earning their contributions from the trucking lobbying groups that have already given nearly $2 million to Republican candidates in 2016.
What’s even more insidious is that this rider is buried in a bill that includes funding for the VA along with much needed funding for Zika prevention.
That means that the Democrats and President Obama are left with the choice of either letting this rider pass — endangering people on our public highways all over the country — or risking being called out for playing political football in the face of a looming public health crisis.
It’s time to get money out of politics so that our lawmakers actually spend their time carefully considering laws and getting public input before they vote.
Rolling back these trucking regulations will put every person who drives on our roads in danger, and the public is being completely blocked out of the lawmaking process.
Until we get money out of politics, we’ll be stuck with a legislative agenda that places the wellbeing of special interests and corporate bottom lines over public interests and the common good.
For more information on how we can get money out of politics, check out Move to Amend.