Ithaca, N.Y. — To the dismay of truck safety experts, Congress is moving forward with a budget deal this week that would weaken federal trucking regulations, according to several national publications.

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Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick criticized the effort in an email on Friday, saying that “rolling back common sense safety regulations … is a terrible idea.”

“(It’s) incredibly frustrating when we know that over 4,000 people have died in large truck accidents in 2012,” Myrick said in an email on Friday, “Especially because this summer a tragic accident stole from Ithaca a member of our community and irreparably damaged our sense of security and safety.”

Mayor Svante Myrick speaks during a press conference on the Simeon's crash Saturday.
Mayor Svante Myrick speaks during a press conference on the Simeon’s crash in June.

The federal bill would increase the number of legal hours drivers can work from 70 per week to over 82, according to The New York Times.

Police have not said that driver Viacheslav Grychanyi, 37, was tired when he caused a cataclysmic crash that killed pregnant mother Amanda Bush. But the tragedy prompted a look at Ithaca’s history of trucking accidents and spurred local lawmakers to seek solutions to prevent further truck disasters.

Now the fear is that the federal government is moving in the opposition direction. This is how The New York Times explains the “egregious” federal effort in an editorial:

“As Congress scrambles this week to reach a year-end budget deal, powerful special interests and their lawmaker-enablers on Capitol Hill are busy inserting favored provisions in the omnibus spending bill with scant regard for potential public harms.

An egregious case in point is the rider that Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, is pushing on behalf of trucking interests. This atrocious giveaway would suspend existing Department of Transportation truck safety regulations put in place in 2012 following a lengthy, transparent and data-driven process to make sure truck drivers get sufficient rest when operating on the nation’s highways.

Unless Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid acts quickly to block inclusion of the Collins rider in the final bill, the maximum allowable work limits for truck drivers would rise from an average of 70 hours per week to over 82. That would rashly put lives at risk for the sake of boosting industry profits.

The bill has passed the House of Representatives, according to The Washington Post. The Post said that The White House is supporting the bill. It is moving to the Senate today.

Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton said in an interview on Friday that it’s too soon to say what impact the federal change could have on Ithaca area lawmakers’ efforts to improve truck safety. Still, Lifton said that she didn’t imagine it would help.

Assemblywoman Lifton.
Assemblywoman Lifton.

“When you look at these issues, you look at how many hours people sleep,” she said of the truck drivers. “Things are more likely to go wrong (when sleep deprived) — you make bad judgements, maybe the driver doesn’t do his brake checks, they go down a road they shouldn’t be going down.”

Lifton said that local officials will discuss the impact of the federal budget bill at a meeting of the truck safety working group next week. She was also sharply critical of the process through which the federal government has gone about the trucking regulations.

“This is the sort of thing that should go through a public hearing — this is a major issue for people all over the country,” she said.

“I’m very concerned that the safety regulations and laws are being seriously watered down in the federal budget bill.”

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Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.