Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced his resignation from President Obama’s Cabinet earlier this week. LaHood will be remembered largely for advances in airline safety and consumer rights, such as introducing new pilot fatigue guidelines and imposing fines for passengers stuck on airplanes during tarmac delays.
At the same time, LaHood refused to roll-back the hours of service requirements of truck drivers from a maximum 11 hours to the old requirement of a maximum 10 hours. The positions and leadership of the new Secretary–whoever that may be–in the area of truck safety can make a huge difference in the number of deaths and injuries on our highways in the coming years and decades. In addition to hours of service regulations, major issues in the short term include requiring electronic log devices in the cabs of trucks, increasing the minimum insurance limits for commercial motor vehicles (which have not been increased since 1980), and continued attention to so-called “chameleon carriers” or “reincarnated carriers” — trucking companies who flagrantly violate federal regulations and, when caught, simply form a new company.
I have heard the following names floated around as potential choices for the new Secretary of Transportation: former Congressman Jim Oberstar, L.A. mayor Anthony Villaraigosa, current National Transportation Safety Board Chair Debbie Hersman, and former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm. And the coming weeks may reveal new potential candidates. My hope is that we find a candidate who understands both the concerns of industry and safety advocates. I believe that investments in transportation in our country, particularly in infrastructure, can greatly help the economy and improve our quality of life while we continue to increase safety.
For example, construction work to improve the quality of our interstate highways creates numerous jobs. Developing high-speed rail across the country—which has continually run into standstills in this country while Europe and Japan outperform us—could greatly increase the quality of life, help businesses and reduce roadway congestion. Federal regulations can be adopted, similar to what was adopted in California just months ago, to safely develop self-driving cars. And we can otherwise encourage or mandate the use of safety features that reduce the number of fatalities on our nation’s roads.
I look forward to seeing a Transportation Secretary appointed who is up to these challenges and more to help our country keep up and move forward.