Transportation bill could mean trouble for highway safety

A massive transportation bill making its way through the Senate could serve to deregulate the trucking industry at a time when there are calls for better federal oversight.

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson and Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin were among a group of Democrats trying to strike down changes to certain regulatory policies involving trucking companies before it made its way out of a committee. The efforts failed on a party line vote.

"There are some members of Congress out decrying regulation, too much government. And I agree: Government can go too far. But when it comes to questions of health and safety, the public can't do this by themselves," Durbin stated in an interview with FOX 13.

Tucked into the massive, 1,000 page transportation bill are truck industry provisions that trouble some lawmakers and public safety advocates. Among the concerns: It would lower the minimum age of interstate truck drivers from 21 to 18. It would also prevent the public from seeing any federal safety rankings for trucking companies. 

A FOX 13 investigation last week revealed that Davis Transfer, a trucking company with a facility in Lakeland, has been involved in three fatal crashes since 2014, but federal regulators charged with monitoring commercial trucks didn't know about any of them.

On Thursday, Lakeland Police told FOX 13 they made a mistake in reporting an October crash that killed a 26-year-old Lakeland man. The crash report was submitted to the state as an injury accident, though the man died four days later. They have now corrected the report and submitted it to the state, which submits data to the FCMSA.

Florida Highway Patrol still hasn't said why a January 2014 five-car pile-up on I-75 in Lakeland is not included on FCMSA's data.

"It's a concern if a state isn't reporting accurate data to the government and the federal government isn't auditing to make sure they have quality data," said Henry Jasny, Vice President of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. "That's a problem."

Davis Transfer is just one trucking company among the thousands that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is tasked with regulating. Safety advocates say it's one example of many where the system is failing.

In May, the U.S. Department of Transportation's Office of the Inspector General announced it would audit the FCMSA's practices. Durbin called for the investigation after a fatal truck crash in Illinois revealed gaps in the FCMSA's investigations and oversight.

"I hope we can shake up this agency," Durbin said. "For goodness sakes, if trucking companies don't believe someone is keeping an eye on the logs of their drivers, I'm afraid we're going to see a lot more deadly accidents."

33,000 people die on U.S. roadways each year. 4,000 of those victims were in crashes involving large trucks.