Slater announces aggressive plan to improve highway safety, drivers’ lives

In a press conference May 25, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater and Federal Highway Administrator Kenneth Wykle outlined an aggressive plan to improve highway safety and place heavy focus on the needs of truckdrivers.

The health and well-being of drivers was identified as a priority element and Slater announced plans to create a national commission reviewing how drivers are paid and how pay affects their actions. The DOT calls this task force a "big one" on its list and Slater noted there has been "little focus on the needs of drivers–just on the bottom line." Wykle cited a recruitment ad promising a pay rate that he calculated as impossible to yield a reasonable living when combined with an average speed and current HOS regulations. Asked how a driver's life will change under the new plans, Wykle said the pressure to work beyond a driver's sleep cycle will decrease because the companies will share the safety responsibility.

DOT announced a ten-year goal of reducing truck-related fatalities by 50 percent and its request for an increased budget amounting to double the funding of last year's programs. Key components include new rules with authority to shut down unfit carriers; increase fines and double compliance reviews.

Regarding hours-of-service reform, Slater reaffirmed completion as soon as possible. On-board recorders appeared to be a favored consideration in direct relation to the hours-of-service reform, and it's likely that truckers will hear more talk regarding the black box. Despite rumors the rulemaking will not be a negotiated one, Slater did not say if the process would involve stakeholders, or be a traditional one (with submission of written comments to the record).

Regarding proposals to move the Office of Motor Carriers and Highway Safety, the focus will be on improving the current agency in order to accomplish its objectives. Slater did not, however, rule out support for creating a motor carrier administration.