Safety advocates fight plan to ease truck driver regulations

Safety advocates warn that a Department of Transportation plan to loosen rules over the number of hours a truck driver can work may put other drivers at higher risk on U.S. highways. The Associated Press reports the trucking industry has long fought to see the federal guidelines relaxed, and is now seeing support from the current White House administration.

The plan comes after government statistics released in May showed a 10% rise in fatal accidents involving semitrailers. The data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association (FMCSA) shows 4,657 fatal truck-related crashes reported in 2017. Another 344,000 non-fatal injury crashes also occurred. Safety advocates fear that weakening regulations will increase the likelihood of hazards, including 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 underreported 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 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 putting lives in danger.

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 monetary 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. The victims or their loved ones with concerns or questions here in New Mexico can contact a knowledgeable personal injury attorney with experience handling motor vehicle accidents involving trucks.

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