Easing trucking drive time rules could lead to truck accidents

Trucking regulations limit the number of hours that drivers of commercial vehicles can be on the road. These rules are meant to combat fatigue and they apply to truckers across the nation, including those right here in Kentucky. But the U.S. Department of Transportation may weaken the federal regulations restricting driving hours even though safety advocates claim that this will increase the risk of truck accidents.

In 2017, there were 4,657 fatal accidents involving a large truck. Sixty of the truckers involved in those accidents were classified as being asleep or fatigued. But the National Transportation Safety Board claims that this problem is probably underreported on police accident reports.

The NTSB also declared driver fatigue as being a widespread problem in all types of transportation and included its reduction in its most recent most want list of safety improvements. Over 10 years ago, the DOT issued a major study finding that 13 percent of truck drivers involved in accidents leading to fatalities or injuries were fatigued.

Regulations currently restrict truckers to 11 hours of driving time within a 14 on-duty period. They must have 10 straight hours off-duty time before the on-clock starts again. A driver who will be driving for over eight hours must take a 30-minute break before reaching the eight-hour period.

Breaking these rules have serious penalties. A trucker may be declared out of service for a day or longer. This may be costly for truckers who are paid by the mile.

Interest groups representing motor carriers and truck drivers have sought revisions that would make the hours of service rules more flexible. Proposed revisions have been drafted and are under review, but have not been released.

Groups seeking change claim that the current rules do not adapt to times that truckers are idle because of heavy traffic, bad weather and long waits. Mandatory break time makes drivers pull over when they may not need rest or parking on highway shoulders and other unsafe places. Instead, according to one group, truckers should be allowed to pause the 14-hour clock for up to three hours.

Safety advocacy groups claim that the weakening of rules will increase truck driver fatigue. They also criticized the government's delay with requiring speed limiters. A bill was ultimately introduced to make this device mandatory.

Trucking accident victims may be entitled to compensation. An attorney can assist them with filing a legal action.

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