America's motorists need some assurance that the long-haul truckers they share the highways with are not being pushed beyond the limits of endurance. That concern lies behind the federal Transportation Department's plan to impose new work rules on the trucking industry, with more hours for rest.
But the department's proposal, though based on common-sense concerns, is sure to meet with protest.
Leading that chorus are truckers' associations that see the plan as an unwarranted intrusion. Drivers, usually paid by the load or the mile, have an incentive to crowd as many hours on the road as possible into each week. Current rules, in effect since 1937, specify a maximum of 60 hours of driving a week, with eight hours off for every 10 on. It's no secret that truckers regularly exceed that.
The new rules would extend to 12 hours the allowable stint behind the wheel - a change decried by some safety advocates. Sleep time, however, would be 10 hours - a ridiculous amount of time, say trucker-critics. Two added hours of rest would be used whenever a driver wants.
To enforce its new rules, the department wants electronic trip recorders in every cab - versus the too-easily-tampered-with paper logs now kept. Many truckers see the recorders as an invasion of privacy.
That's an understandable concern, but it doesn't push aside the fact that the work done by truck drivers has distinctly public aspects - road safety, as well as economic importance. Eighteen-wheeler trucks are 3 percent of the vehicles on the road, but accidents involving them account for 13 percent of highway fatalities - 5,203 last year.
Whatever rules are finally imposed, they should retain the basics of more built-in rest time for drivers and better ways of checking on that.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society