Tue, Feb 27, 2018 - Page 7 News List

US transportation policy shows rising industry influence

VANISHING ACT:Reporters found that a number of regulations put on the agenda of the Department of Transportation under the last administration have been abandoned

AP, WASHINGTON

US President Donald Trump is putting the brakes on attempts to address dangerous safety problems from speeding tractor-trailers to sleepy railroad engineers, as part of his quest to roll back regulations across the government, a review by The Associated Press (AP) of US Department of Transportation (DOT) rule-making activities showed.

A dozen transportation safety rules under development or already adopted have been repealed, withdrawn, delayed or put on the back burner since Trump took office last year. There have been no significant new safety rules approved during that time.

The sidelined rules would have, among other things, required states to conduct annual inspections of commercial bus operators, railroads to operate trains with at least two crew members and automakers to equip cars and light trucks with vehicle-to-vehicle communications to prevent collisions.

In most cases, the rules are opposed by powerful industries. The political appointees running the agencies that write the rules often come from the industries they regulate.

Many of the rules were prompted by tragic events.

“These rules have been written in blood,” International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers legislative director John Risch said. “But we’re in a new era now of little-to-no new regulations, no matter how beneficial they might be.”

Trump has sought to eliminate regulations throughout the government, viewing them as unnecessary restraints on economic growth. He has ordered that two regulations be identified for elimination for every significant new one issued.

The department has said it can reduce regulations without undermining safety and has questioned the effectiveness of some proposed regulations.

It declined repeated requests since November for an on-the-record interview with a top official to discuss safety regulations.

Instead, the department provided a brief statement from department Deputy General Counsel James Owens saying that new administrations typically take a “fresh look” at regulations, including those that are the most costly.

“We will not finalize a rule simply because it has advanced through preliminary steps,” Owens said. “Even if a rule is ‘one step away,’ if that rule is not justifiable because it harms safety and imposes unnecessarily high economic costs, for example, that rule will not advance.”

One rule, proposed by the department in 2016, would require new heavy trucks to have software that electronically limits their speeds.

The government did not designate a top speed, but said it had studied 60, 65 and 68mph (97kph, 105kph and 109kph.

The White House moved the proposal from its list of active rulemakings to its long-term agenda after Trump took office.

The department said that the rule is not dead, but the department has limited resources and higher priorities.

The rule would save as many as 498 lives per year and produce a net cost savings to society of US$475 million to nearly US$5 billion annually, depending on the top speed the government picked, the department estimated two years ago.

The American Trucking Associations, an industry trade group, initially supported the rule, but now claims credit for stalling it.

The group said it would create dangerous speed differentials between cars and trucks.

Trucking officials met with US Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao within hours after she took office, association president Chris Spear said.

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