Manuel Hernandez is not a complainer. But lately, he’s got a lot to complain about. Excessive government regulations are making it harder and harder for him to earn a living. And he’s not sure what he can do about it.
Hernandez is not an energy executive being hassled by the EPA, a banker trying to cope with Dodd-Frank, or a doctor getting nickel-and-dimed by HHS and Obamacare; he’s a long-haul trucker. And his story is one all Republicans running for office should know, because it personifies our government’s war against a large category of middle-class workers who make our economy hum.
Readers of the Wall Street Journal met Hernandez in his truck somewhere on Interstate 10 between El Paso and Los Angeles, thanks to a superb piece of reporting by Betsy Morris last week. This first sentence caught every reader’s attention: “Manuel Hernandez is one of a vanishing breed: a professional long-haul trucker.”
Long-haul truckers are vanishing? Is there someone protecting this endangered species? God knows we have enough people fighting for the survival of the dunes sagebrush lizard.
We soon learned why this breed of middle-class worker is vanishing, and we learned more about the 50-year-old Hernandez, too. Like many truckers, he loves what he does, especially squeezing his 18-wheeler into tight spaces. He’s a guy who doesn’t get his fashion tips from GQ and never once dreamed of landing that big corner office. His office is the rig he works in every day, accompanied by a whole lot of horsepower and thousands of miles of open road.
Hernandez’s story got more interesting a bit farther down in the article, as we learned how public policy dictated by bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., was affecting his life — and the lives of all long-haul truckers — for the worse: “Lately, though, Mr. Hernandez’s patience has been worn thin by a confusing tangle of rules, efficiency directives, and electronic devices that cap his speed, log his every move, and practically try to autopilot his truck. Magnifying the stress are more federal rule changes that took effect in July and are now roiling the industry.”
The federal agency that is doing all this is the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), an agency within a bigger agency, the Department of Transportation.
Under a revised rule by the FMCSA’s trucking czars, the average workweek for men and women who make a living carting around America’s stuff was shortened to 70 hours from 82. But that wasn’t the only change. It turns out the required 34-hour break between workweeks must now extend over two nights, including the hours between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., according to Betsy Morris’s article.
The micromanaging of what truckers can and can’t do is nothing new, but adding this new set of rules to lots of old rules — particularly one that limited truckers to no more than eleven hours of driving in a day, with a required rest of ten consecutive hours — has cost Hernandez and truckers like him dearly.
Why the changes? Has there been a spike of trucking accidents involving sleepy drivers?
Actually, no. Crashes involving large trucks declined 26 percent between 2000 and 2011. It turns out that the rule changes were the result of a decade of litigation against the FMCSA by safety advocates and plaintiff lawyers pushing for tougher driving laws.
What was supposed to be the upside to the changes foisted by the FMCSA on already-overregulated truckers like Manuel Hernandez? The agency predicts the new rules will prevent about 1,400 crashes and 560 injuries and save 19 lives a year.