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Are Houston port truckers putting the rest of us at risk?

The Port of Houston is the eighth-busiest seaport in the county. Truck drivers move thousands of containers in and out of the facility on a daily basis, coming back for load after load. Sometimes those drivers are dangerously fatigued – and they are sharing the roads with us.

An investigative report of port traffic by USA Today Network contends that those drivers are routinely pressured to work long shifts in violation of federal law. The study linked fatal truck crashes to gate logs that showed some trucks on the road for as many as 20 hours at a stretch without rest.

Are port trucking companies following the law?

The USA Today Network story examined container truck traffic at the Port of Los Angeles in California. The team examined four years’ worth of time stamps at the port gates, covering some 30 million trips. The study revealed more a half a million times (580,000) when truckers were potentially operating for 14-plus hours without the federally mandated 10-hour break. Reporters also interviewed former drivers who said they routinely skirted the rules and felt compelled to keep driving despite feeling sleepy or delirious.

The study then matched several fatal traffic crashes to trucks that had passed through the port gates in the previous 24 hours. Some of those drivers had been on the road well past the legal limit to the point of dangerous fatigue.

While the report focused only on Los Angeles, the disturbing conclusions are believed to reflect a nationwide problem, including ports here in Texas. Nearly 2 million containers (inbound and outbound) move through the Port of Houston each year, and that number is projected to increase after major infrastructure enhancements at the Barbours Cut and Bayport container terminals.

Long hours increase the risk of a truck crash

The port trucking industry is notorious for violating federal transportation regulations. In the USA Today Network report, several drivers said they were required to drive additional hours and ordered to fudge their logbooks. Those who refuse may suffer retaliation, from low-paying assignments to termination.

As a result of driving long hours, port truckers are involved in a disproportionate number of accidents. There were 556 traffic fatalities involving large trucks in Texas in 2016, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. Only 108 of those killed were truck drivers – the vast majority of truck accident victims are men, women and children in passenger vehicles, perhaps the innocent victims of fatigued truck drivers.

What is the solution?

The federal government first started regulating hours of service for truckers in 1936. The trucking lobby consistently opposes tighter restrictions as an unnecessary burden on employers and drivers. The industry has also fought electronic logging devices that would track data such as location, speed and how long the truck has been on the road. Such technology would make it tougher for trucking companies – including port truckers in Texas – to exceed the maximum hours.

Enforcing these common-sense regulations can help save lives, including the lives of truckers who are pushed to the limits in the name of profit.

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