Safety advocates warn that a Department of Transportation plan to loosen rules over the number of hours a truck driver can work may put all drivers at higher risk on U.S. highways. The Associated Press reports the trucking industry has long fought to see the federal guidelines relaxed with help from the current administration.
The plan comes after government statistics released in May showed a 10% rise in accidents involving semitrailers. The data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association (FMCSA) reported 4,657 fatal truck-related crashes in 2017. Another 344,000 non-fatal injury crashes also occurred. Safety advocates fear weakening regulations will increase safety hazards, including the likelihood of driver fatigue.
NTSB declares driver fatigue a “pervasive problem”
Truck drivers identified as asleep or fatigued accounted for 60 of the drivers involved in fatal crashes in the report, but the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said that number is likely higher as driver fatigue is under-reported on police accident forms. The agency placed the issue on its 2019-2020 “most wanted list” of safety improvements.
Current rules for truck drivers
Truckers who drive a semitrailer weighing 10,000 pounds or more must follow:
- 11-hour driving limit: Daily hours allowed following 10 hours off-duty
- 14-hour driving window: 11 driving hours must happen within this period
- Rest breaks: Cannot drive more than eight hours in one stretch without a 30-minute break
- 60/70-hour limit: Maximum driving hours allowed in a 7/8-day period
- 34-hour break: Must be taken after 60/70-hour limit reached
Drivers who violate these rules are forced “out of service” for one day or more. Rule violations hurt their pocketbooks since trucking companies pay most drivers by the mile.
How safe are you on the road with semitrailers?
The FMCSA report shows nearly 70% of people killed were in passenger vehicles while 14% were on motorcycles, bicycles or were pedestrians. The remaining 17% were truck drivers.
The effects of semitrailer crashes can be devastating, with some big rigs weighing as much as 80,000 pounds when loaded. Speed mixed with a vehicle 25-times the weight of the average car creates an overwhelming force that puts the lives of other drivers in danger.
Driver fatigue, along with inexperienced drivers, maintenance issues and other forms of negligence are the most common reasons for crashes. Fatalities are common, and if the victim survives, they face temporary or permanent injuries, high medical bills and lost wages.
Safety advocates respond to efforts to loosen driver restrictions
Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety is an alliance of consumer, health and safety groups and insurance companies. The group says yearly truck crash fatalities kill the same amount of people as if a passenger plane crashed every two weeks during the year. The group says the cost to society reached nearly $114 billion in 2014.
On July 16, the group gathered in Washington, D.C. with the Truck Safety Coalition, crash survivors and members of Congress for a news conference. They discussed improvements and legislation needed to prevent what advocates call a “major public health epidemic.”
With safety advocates on one side of the issue and the Department of Transportation on the other, the matter is far from resolved at this time. Regardless of which side prevails, the roads are getting more dangerous. Victims or loved ones of victims involved in fatal crashes may need the guidance of an experienced personal injury attorney. They understand these laws and regulations and can help the injured and their families get the compensation they deserve.