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For the Postal Service, truck safety takes a back seat

By Rep. Gerald E. Connolly

In June 2022, members of the Godines and Everts families were driving to their home in Gillette, Wyo. Traveling behind the family on I-25 as they passed Greeley, Colo. was a freight truck carrying mail on a contract with the U.S. Postal Service. The truck’s brakes were out of alignment, it was uninsured, and its driver did not have a commercial driver’s license. The truck slammed into the back of the Godines’ family vehicle and, in an instant, a member of the Everts family and three generations of Godines lost their lives, including a three-month-old baby girl named Tessleigh.

Unknown to most Americans, this tragedy is playing out across our country. Over the last three years, at least 79 people were killed in crashes involving trucks contracted by the Postal Service. Even more concerning, the number of lives lost could be even higher because, just last year, we learned that USPS did not even report serious crashes involving its trucking contractors.

That revelation raised further serious questions about safety oversight of Postal Service-contracted vehicles, including troubling allegations the Postal Service is managing truck freight operations which do not adhere to commonsense safety standards. The Postal Service has, for example, set delivery schedules that require drivers to exceed hours of service requirements and has selected carriers with extensive records of safety violations.

Between December 2020 and December 2022, the Department of Transportation identified a frightening 466 Postal Service trucking contractors that had high rates of violations related to driving hours. In 2021 and 2022, 39 percent of trucking companies that carried U.S. mail violated rules meant to prevent driver exhaustion and did so repeatedly. Between 2017 and 2022, one single trucking group with a USPS contract broke those rules more than 200 times.

When we first asked the Postal Service for the number of deaths involved in the contracted transport of mail, they revealed that they did not collect, monitor, or report such information. How could a public service, constitutionally mandated to serve every community across the country, not keep a basic record of traffic related deaths involved in the delivery of mail? The USPS approach to this information was “out of sight, out of mind.”

In May 2023, following our congressional request, the USPS Office of Inspector General began to investigate the safety of freight contract trucking practices as the Postal Service. In response, the Postal Service established an ad hoc centralized reporting mechanism for serious and deadly crashes involving postal freight contractors. But that isn’t enough.

The Office of Inspector General recently released its findings on this safety crisis. In that report, the inspector general noted that, while the new reporting mechanism is a welcome step, the Postal Service still does not have a single written policy requiring the tracking of trucking contractor accidents and fatalities. The inspector general’s No. 1 recommendation was that the Postal Service fix this serious safety oversight immediately.

Congress must hold the Postal Service accountable and remedy this problem. Last week, Oversight and Accountability Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) and I introduced bipartisan legislation, the Mail Traffic Deaths Reporting Act, which would codify the inspector general’s primary recommendation.

To begin to improve USPS freight trucking safety, the Mail Traffic Deaths Reporting Act requires employees and contractors to provide a detailed report to the Postal Service of any mail transport-related traffic crash that resulted in serious injury or death. Our bill requires the Postal Service to maintain an internal database of such reports and publish an annual report summarizing information related to such crash reports. Finally, our bill requires the Postal Services to take action against contractors that repeatedly fail to submit the required crash reports. It is our hope this legislation creates a virtuous feedback loop at the Postal Service in which crash data enforces strict adherence to safety compliance and best practices.

In Fiscal Year 2023, the Postal Service had about 4,600 trucking contracts to the tune of $5.2 billion. Given its scope and scale, this issue will not resolve itself. Our work is about saving lives, protecting families on our nation’s roads, and ensuring that no one else has to feel the heart wrenching grief and loss experienced by the Godines family.

Gerald E. Connolly represents Virginia’s 11th District and is a senior member of the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability.

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