What do over-the-road truck drivers do when they become dissatisfied with their Teamsters Union’s indifference toward unsafe tractor-trailers and driving conditions?
They hire their own full-time lawyer in Washington to push the federal government on truck safety.
With our encouragement, several hundred truck drivers have formed the Professional Drivers Council (PROD) whose director is Arthur L. Fox. Their grievances affect not just their own roadway safety but the safety of millions of motorists who have to negotiate the highways with these vehicular giants at or near top speed limits.
Here are some of their major complaints:
– Employers demand that drivers be on the job for as long as 80 hours a week. The grueling pace on these long cross country trips produce extreme fatigue. Drivers have told Senator Harold Hughes (D-Iowa), a former truck driver himself, that many drivers regularly use amphetamines to stay awake since their shift can extend to 18 hours or more and may begin at any unpredictable hour of the day or night. Department of Transportation figures show that 40 percent of commercial driver fatalities occur in “ran-off-roadway” accidents and 76 percent of the crashes where the driver’s physical condition is a factor result from fatigue. Many of these trucks carry fuel, hazardous chemicals or explosives along with their nodding and driven drivers.
– The giant trucks are inadequately designed and maintained. These deficiencies include tires and brakes. Hand valves which can separately activate the trailer brakes are being discontinued as standard equipment. Most trucks have no seat belts and the truck cab in the newer vehicles is designed right over the hot engine. According to
Department of Transportation statistics, about one-quarter of the trucks spot-checked while in transit by its inspectors were found to be so seriously defective as to pose an imminent threat to highway safety. They are being declared “out of service” until essential repairs are made. With only 100 inspectors nationwide, the Department can hardly scratch the surface of the hundreds of thousands of these trailers.
– Truck companies impose such unrealistic schedules on the men that they are forced to exceed speed limits to arrive “on time.”
– The unceasing vibrations and fumes add to the nausea felt by drivers and their long term kidney and other ailments. Modern vehicle engineering could prevent or sharply reduce these pressures on health.
– Complaining about these grievances just gets the drivers in trouble with their company and irritates their union leaders. Those workers who persist in speaking out and demanding safe vehicles and driving conditions either find themselves out of work or are given the worst hours and trips.
PROD has been petitioning the Department of Transportation to upgrade and enforce its regulations regarding vehicle and operating safety, including hours of employment. Legislation is also pending in the Congress to provide the Department with authority to enforce the its own regulations by imposing administrative fines on/carriers and, if all else fails, to suspend or revoke their licenses.
In the meantime, the wealthy Teamsters Union in Washington yawns. It has no safety and health department even though many thousands of its members are killed or injured on the highway each year. “There is not even one single individual on the International Teamsters payroll whose 4ob it is to study and represent members’ safety and health related interests says Arthur Fox. Yet, he adds, the Teamsters leaders have “recently spent well over a million dollars of its members’ hard earned money on image promotion including a shiny red, white and blue tractor-trailer combination touring the country.”
Until the Teamsters become serious on driver and truck safety, more drivers will be joining PROD (P.O. Box 69, Washington, D.C. 20044) and supporting its health and safety efforts.