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An Act of Congress May Mean More Encounters with Fatigued Truckers

Congress’ recent actions may increase the number of fatigued truck drivers on the road.

When a truck accident occurs, serious consequences can result. Due to the large size of 18-wheeler trucks, there is a much greater possibility of serious injury and death in such accidents, especially for motorists in smaller passenger vehicles. According to the Missouri State Highway Patrol, truck and other commercial vehicle accidents were responsible for 113 deaths during 2012 alone, representing over 13 percent of motorists killed in the state during that year.

One of the top causes of truck accidents is truck driver fatigue, which occurs when drivers do not get enough rest before getting behind the wheel. To guard against the possibility, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is tasked with setting the rules governing when drivers must rest. These regulations are called hours of service (HOS) rules.

During the middle of 2013, the FMCSA tackled the problem of driver fatigue by significantly revising the HOS rules. Specifically, the agency capped driver workweeks at 70 hours, which is a 12-hour decrease from the prior rules. Additionally, the FMCSA made a significant modification to the rules concerning driver rest breaks. Under the revised HOS rules, drivers were required to rest for 34 hours over two consecutive periods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. as soon as they had reached the 70-hour workweek cap. The FMCSA believed that this would significantly reduce driver fatigue, since prior studies had shown the human body needs rest the most during this time.

Congress Reverses Rules

Unfortunately, the rules were only in effect just over a year before Congress, influenced by truck industry lobbying, suspended some of the rules in the omnibus spending bill that was signed into law at the end of 2014. Under the revised HOS rules, the 70-hour workweek and 34-hour rest break still stand. However, the law did away with the nighttime rest period requirement, allowing truckers to take their rest breaks at any time.

Of course, with the new rules, truckers can now be forced by their employers to take their rest breaks primarily during the day. Unfortunately, since human bodies are naturally wired to get their rest during the dark nighttime hours, forcing some truckers to rest during the day could ultimately cause an increase in the number of fatigued drivers.

Although the nighttime rest requirement is down, it is not out. Congress allowed the prior nighttime rest period provisions to be reinstated if the FMCSA conducts a study to review the effects of the requirement on the truckers’ operation, safety and fatigue. It was recently announced that the FMCSA is conducting such a study to be submitted to the Department of Transportation, which will review the results and advise Congress whether it complies with the requirements necessary to reinstate the suspended rules. It is unknown at this time when the study will be completed.

Speak to an Attorney

The trucking industry is one where missing deadlines can mean a significant decrease in profits. As a result, it often regards safety as an afterthought. Unfortunately, innocent motorists end up paying the price when this occurs. If you or a loved one has been injured in a truck accident, the failure to comply with safety regulations may not always be obvious. The law firm of Dempsey & Kingsland, P.C. can pinpoint the cause of the accident after an investigation and hold any negligent parties accountable for their actions.