With regulation, public safety must come first

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Don’t come knocking on my door looking for support for the Trump administration’s latest effort to get rid of what the president likes to call job-killing regulations.

Why?

I will answer that question, but first let me tell you about my brother-in-law, Jim.

He grew up in Cedar Rapids. He served in the Army in Vietnam and received his business degree from the University of Northern Iowa.

Jim never was someone who shied away from hard work. He always was thinking about other people and their needs before he would think about himself.

In Vietnam, helicopter gunships were an important mode of transportation through the jungles. Door gunners on those choppers were vital members of the flight crew.

When he came back from the war, Jim’s family was not surprised to learn that in Vietnam, on days when he could have been safely on the ground back at his base, he would volunteer to sub for door-gunner friends to give them a break from the stressful work.

I got to know Jim a decade later, after the war. But that anecdote from Vietnam tells you volumes about how Jim lived and worked.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that family came first for Jim. There are dozens of photo albums in his home in Illinois that are filled with wonderful pictures of family vacations — the fishing, camping and sightseeing trips across the United States with his wife and their kids loaded in the family van.

He was a devoted father for his four kids and their soccer, their running and their basketball. He was a wonderful companion for his wife, Bobbi. But whenever his mother, a widow, needed help with some handyman task, Jim was back in Cedar Rapids, tools in hand.

That brings me to the afternoon of May 11, 2009, and why I think the Trump administration’s wholesale push to rescind many regulations is so shortsighted and ill-advised.

Jim and Bobbi and their golden retriever, Chase, were driving back home from one of those trips to Cedar Rapids. They were on Interstate 80, just a stone’s throw from the Mississippi River at LeClaire, when a semi-trailer truck rammed into the rear of their van and another car.

The truck driver failed to slow for a construction zone — despite those orange signs posted for several miles warning of the slower speed limit ahead.

Jim and the driver of the other car were killed. Bobbi was seriously injured. And Chase also died.

Let me tell you about one of those “job-killing regulations” Trump wiped off the books just a few weeks ago.

The regulation was proposed last year by President Barack Obama. It would require trucking companies and railroads to screen their drivers and train engineers for a respiratory disorder called sleep apnea that is becoming more common as obesity becomes more prevalent.

The medical condition leads some people to experience daytime drowsiness and to nod off while working. When you are driving a 40-ton truck or operating a train, dozing off can have catastrophic consequences for innocent people.

But the Trump administration says regulations like this one are harming economic growth. Of course, the death of a father/husband certainly harms his family’s economic growth — and has lasting effects on his kids, and grandchildren, who lose out on countless experiences with a wonderful guy.

Medical experts say sleep apnea affects about 10 percent of people. That’s one in every 10 truckers you pass. One in 10 trains.

It’s a frightening statistic to leave to the railroads or trucking companies to self-police.

The National Transportation Safety Board said the Trump administration decision to rescind the regulation was disappointing because the mandatory sleep apnea screening is much-needed in “safety-sensitive transportation occupations.”

How has self-policing worked?

Ask the families of the four people who were killed, and the 60 people who were injured, when a commuter train crashed in 2013 in New York City. The engineer — diagnosed afterward with sleep apnea — took his train into a 30 mph curve at an astonishing 82 mph.

Sarah Feinberg, the head of the Federal Railroad Administration under President Obama, said of Trump’s decision to rescind the sleep apnea screening requirements:

“It’s very hard to argue that people aren’t being put at risk. We cannot have someone who is in that condition operating either a train going 70 mph or a multi-ton truck traveling down the interstate.

“It’s just not an appropriate level of risk to be exposing passengers and the traveling public to.”

Amen to that.

• Randy Evans is a columnist for the Bloomfield Democrat. Comments: DMRevans2810@gmail.com

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