Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Trucking Industry Seeks to Limit Speeds

A lobbying group for the largest U.S. trucking companies wants to force big-rig manufacturers to install devices that limit the speed of new vehicles to 68 miles per hour in a bid to reduce crashes and save lives.

But critics of the proposal put forth by American Trucking Associations on Tuesday see a veiled attempt to gain a competitive edge over independent drivers, and a public relations effort to curry favor with safety regulators.

The Alexandria, Va.-based lobbying association said it plans to formally petition federal officials on Friday. It will ask the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration "to limit the maximum speed of large trucks at the time of manufacture" and ask the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to "prohibit the tampering or adjustment of speed limiting devices to greater than 68 miles per hour."

There are 24 states where the speed limit for trucks on interstate highways is 70 miles per hour and higher.

Industry officials that are not affiliated with the American Trucking Associations said the group's proposal appears to be motivated by economics as much as by safety.

Because many of the country's largest trucking companies already have devices installed in their vehicles to limit drivers' speeds below 68 miles per hour, the trade group may be seeking the new rules as a way to remove an advantage among rivals who are free to drive faster, these officials said.

"Certain trucking companies would like to limit the productivity of their competitors," said Todd Spencer, executive vice president for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

Spencer said leveling the playing field on truck speeds may also be an issue in an industry that "doesn't pay very well" and is facing a driver shortage. "Many drivers will leave a company that has speed-reduced trucks for a company without them," he said.

And with some trucking companies interested in putting longer and heavier double- and triple-trailers on the road, "they may feel it would be easier to slide that by the public if they were to package it by saying that all these trucks are going to be driving slower now," Spencer said.

Joan Claybrook, the president of Public Citizen, said the trucking association's proposal might help improve truck driver safety, though there are other ways to go about it.

Because most drivers are paid by the mile and are only allowed to drive a limited number of hours each day, "they often are tempted to speed," Claybrook said. "The real issue is they should just pay drivers by the hour, then they wouldn't encourage them to speed."

Federal statistics released in August showed the number of fatalities from truck-involved crashes declined to 5,212 in 2005, down from 5,235 in 2004. The number of people injured in large truck crashes fell to 114,000, a decrease of 2,000 from the year before.

Leigh Strope, a spokeswoman for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, said the union's 12,000 truck drivers would not be affected by the proposed speed-limit rules. Under contracts signed in 2003 with companies such as USF Bestway, a unit of Yellow Roadway Corp., and ABF Freight System, a unit of Arkansas Best Corp., "we have an agreement that sets speed limits of 62 miles per hour on newer equipment and 60 miles per hour on older equipment," Strope said.

Some analysts said trucking companies might also be trying to improve the fuel efficiency of their fleets.

One major trucking manufacturer said it hadn't seen any specific speed-limit proposals, but that it was generally aware of the issue.

"Our basic position has been that we support and design our vehicles for safe and efficient operations," said Roy Wiley, a spokesman for Navistar International Corp., the parent company of International Truck and Engine. "We do offer speed limiting devices on all of our vehicles, and if a customer wants it, we put it on."

Tiffany Wlazlowski, a spokesman for the American Trucking Association, said the group would have no further comment on the issue before a news conference scheduled for Friday.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Don't Be Deceived About the Recent Drop in Gas Prices

Creating a New Oil Profits Tax Would Ensure Prices Stay Lower

By Teamsters President Jim Hoffa

After suffering through countless months of outrageous gasoline prices, motorists are relieved to finally be getting a break at the pump. But many Americans are wondering why this happened and, perhaps more important, how long it will last. With two oilmen in the White House, there shouldn't be any question.

After hitting a high in August, suddenly—almost magically—gas prices started falling, even after analysts had been cautioning Americans to get used to $3 per gallon. Despite those warnings and the BP pipeline crisis in Alaska, the price of gas has fallen 75 cents in two months on the eve of Election 2006.

Election Implications

How long will it take President George Bush to give his oil baron buddies the green light to continue price gouging once ballots are cast? The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries has announced production cuts, which translates into higher gas prices and is an important indication of things to come -- after Nov. 7, of course.

Saudi Arabia, the cartel's largest member, has thoughtfully decided to maintain current production through November.

A recent Gallup poll suggests that almost half of Americans are suspicious of the role the Bush administration played in the sudden and timely decline in gas prices, and think the drop likely has more to do with trying to secure a win for the Republican Party in the upcoming November elections than it does with supply and demand.

And there is plenty of evidence to support their beliefs.

It is no secret that the Bush family has had a long-standing relationship with the government in Saudi Arabia. Washington Post Managing Editor Bob Woodward wrote in his 2004 book, "Plan of Attack," that Prince Bandar bin Sultan, then-Saudi ambassador to the United States, also known as "Bandar Bush," promised he would keep oil production high enough to average out gas prices and bolster America's economy during the presidential election year.

Price Drop Not a Coincidence

The Saudi government is again trying to rescue Bush, in danger of losing his grip on Congress.

While Americans were suffering at the pump, Exxon posted a record $36 billion in profits last year—the most for any company ever. Exxon also gave retiring Chief Executive Lee Raymond one of the most generous retirement packages in history—nearly $400 million, including pension, stock options and other perks such as home security, personal security and use of a corporate jet.

Americans were fed up with price gouging at the pump, and polls showed they were going to make their anger known at the ballot box. Then gas prices started falling.

What a coincidence!

Our hands are not tied, though. We can cast our votes for candidates who will work to keep fuel costs down.

Democrats in both the House and Senate have called for a windfall-profit tax on oil companies that avoids taxing exploration and development of new production. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., proposed suspending federal taxes on gas and diesel fuel for 60 days, reducing the cost of gas by 18 cents per gallon for regular gas and 24 cents per gallon for diesel. Taxing the surging oil profits would easily make up the lost revenue.

Don't let Bush's magic gas wand sway your vote—it loses its power after Election Day.