At field hearings around the country and in Washington, as well as in written comments to the docket, truckers have delivered the message loud and clear. The recently released DOT proposal for changing hours-of-service regulations is unworkable and unacceptable.In reviewing the proposed changes, you find yourself thinking - surely they're not serious... maybe this is just a product of some government bureaucrat staying up too late and working in a fatigued condition... or maybe they just didn't give careful consideration to the effect this proposal would have on truckers. And you think, now that they have heard the industry's comments, they'll go back and draft regulations that will actually produce a practical improvement over the existing outdated and unworkable rules.Hope that this could happen begins to fade though, when you recall the tens of millions of dollars of our money these people have already invested in research. And think of the many thousands of hours spent over the past 10 years in reviewing the research and consider the huge volume of industry input already available to them from their advance notice of proposed rulemaking proceedings on this issue.Unfortunately, this outrageous proposal was not just a simple mistake produced for any of these reasons. It is the product of an arrogant bureaucracy that has grown to believe it can impose any requirement it wishes on truckers, as long as it presents those requirements in the name of safety. It is the product of the department's leadership, who is willing to sacrifice "common sense" good judgment, and your rights and freedoms, in an effort to pander to those so-called "safety groups" that have sought to fulfill their own private agendas by painting honest, hard-working truckers as irresponsible criminals.As ridiculous and outrageous as the actual proposed hours-of-service regulations are, their significance pales in comparison to the assault on truckers' rights contained in the provision requiring onboard automatic surveillance systems to enforce those regulations. My greatest regret is that we are unable to take legal action against them for even suggesting such an atrocity. That we cannot single out those who are individually responsible to hold them personally liable. And that these people can reach out with this type of attack on the rights and freedoms of professional truckers from the protective shield of their government service jobs with immunity from personal accountability.This proposal mirrors another assault on human dignity perpetrated by this same department under a different leadership a short time back. This attack, to my continuing disgust, succeeded in eroding the rights and freedoms of not just professional truckers, but all transportation workers. We're talking, of course, about the mandatory drug testing rule. In addition to the damage this regulation has done to human rights and dignity, it has been a huge waste of time and money, and has succeeded only in creating enormous wealth for the companies who perform the testing. I have never seen one shred of evidence that this requirement has had any effect at all in improving highway safety.I am reminded of the comments of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, a staunch defender of public rights, in his dissent to the majority in the court's decision to uphold the drug testing requirements. Justice Marshall put it into perspective when he reminded the court of a 1928 statement by Justice Louis Brandeis. Marshall quoted Brandeis, who said that the government teaches by its example. Brandeis did not go along with the high court's acceptance of evidence obtained by unlawful government wiretap. Brandeis condemned the government's example of "making the end justify the means."Marshall, in the drug testing case, also found more apt words from Justice Brandeis. "It is . . . immaterial that the intrusion was in aid of law enforcement", said Brandeis. "Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the Government's purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding."This historical comment sure seems to have found its way back to the present. Unfortunately, these great defenders of our rights are no longer with us, and those who have little regard for anyone's rights continue to chip away at ours. But I have one more message for the DOT. You rule us only as long as we collectively allow you to do so. If you go too far in abusing the trust and power you hold, we will not quietly submit.The real tragedy here is that this outrageous example of government arrogance and incompetence will likely kill any realistic chance of achieving a much-needed revision of current outdated, impractical hours-of-service regulations in the near future. This opportunity to put in place regulations that would allow professional truckers the flexibility to operate safely within the law is wasted, along with the time and financial resources it took to get them to this point.The DOT has now admitted they may have screwed up and further review of some areas may be necessary. Even with this admission, can we now trust these same people, under the leadership of this administration, to go back and develop acceptable revisions? Not likely!There are currently initiatives moving through Congress that will effectively end further consideration of hours-of-service rules changes until next year. In my view, we have no choice but to support that delay.
Editor's note - for more information on the initiatives moving through Congress, see page 18 in this issue.