Every industry and special interest group, from apple growers to zipper manufacturers, has its own lobbyists. Lobbying, or attempting to influence government decisions by appealing to legislators and regulatory agencies, is legal in America—with fewer restrictions than some activists might like. In practice, lobbying can give well-heeled interest groups a disproportionate amount of power when it comes to getting heard by lawmakers who have the power to impose or remove restrictions on their industry.
In an ideal world, lobbyists would be just as concerned as lawmakers for public safety. In practice, industries that are known to be harmful, like the tobacco industry, are still allowed to lobby. Industries that have safety regulations imposed on them for good reasons are also allowed to argue that those regulations are cutting too deeply into their profits.
The trucking industry has increased its lobbying efforts in recent years, taking advantage of political sentiment that favors increased revenue over safe infrastructure. Truck-related deaths fell in 2009, but skyrocketed 17.3 percent in 2013, following a systematic campaign by lobbyists to increase profits at the expense of public safety.
Upsetting the balance between profits and safety
Lobbyists pushed hard to allow semi trucks to pull two trailers in tandem in all 50 states. Truckers refer to these tandem trailers as widowmakers, because they are harder to control on the road. These multi-trailer trucks come with a dramatically increased crash risk, with an 11 percent increase in fatalities over single-trailer trucks. Multi-trailer trucks are also more likely to suffer from the “crack the whip effect,” which can cause a trailer to roll over when the driver makes a quick lane change.
Lobbyists have also pushed for laxer rules on how much rest truck drivers need between shifts, how much liability insurance trucking companies should be required to carry, whether jurors can be shown industry safety standards at trial, higher maximum weight limits for loads, longer tractor trailers, how many hours truck drivers are allowed to work per week, and more.
Truck drivers face pressure to break the rules
Even when trucking companies are nominally following the rules, they’re often pushing drivers to fudge logbooks or skip scheduled maintenance. Some truck drivers refer to their logbooks, which officially show them as sticking to the federally mandated Hours of Service Regulations, as “comic books” or “joke books” because they are so frequently falsified. One trucker reports hearing this rhyme about log books:
"Show the company what they want to see
and don't get caught by the DOT."
Because some truck drivers are only paid for the miles they drive when they’re hauling a load, not the process of getting to the site or loading the truck, they may end up awake and on the road for hours longer than the Hours of Service Regulations allow. To compensate for hours of lost sleep, truckers are far more likely than the average citizen to abuse stimulants like methamphetamine and cocaine. A study collecting information about truck drivers’ habits around the world found that 30 percent admitted to using amphetamines to stay awake during long hours on the road. More tested positive for caffeine and ephedrine. Studies found that drug users were likely to be making more money on the roads, since they had longer routes on average.
Scientists say that use of drugs on the road could be reduced—but only by cutting truck drivers’ incentive to work long hours. That’ exactly what the trucking industry is trying to prevent.