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Truckers and Regulators Push Back and Forth Over Truck Driver Sleep Regulations

Semi Truck

The June 7th accident involving actor and comedian Tracy Morgan and a Wal-Mart semi truck has helped to bring the public’s attention to a serious problem. The problem? The amount of sleep truck drivers get before getting behind the wheel.

According to the New York Times, “For decades, federal authorities have tried to ensure that truck drivers get adequate rest.” However, the industry has pushed back claiming that Washington has no right to create truck driver sleep regulations. This isn’t just a matter of life and death for commercial trucking companies, but a matter of money. The Times says trucking is, “a business that lives by the clock.” In such a business, “miles mean money.”

The New York Times reports that over 30,000 people die every year on highways, and that one in seven of those deaths involve large trucks. The Times also states, “Drowsy driving is a leading cause of crashes and highway fatalities, according to federal officials.” Prosecutors in the Tracy Morgan case claim that the truck driver that slammed into the van carrying Morgan and others, “had not slept in more than 24 hours.” Accidents like these lead Federal officials to reduce the maximum workweek for truckers to 70 hours -down from 82. The New York Times explains, “Drivers who hit this limit can start their workweek only after a mandatory 34-hour resting period.” The Times also notes that drivers cannot drive more than 11 hours in a day and they must have at least one 30 minute break in their schedule.

However, not everyone is happy about the new truck driver sleep regulations. The trucking industry believes the regulations are too strict, and they also believe they could make traffic worse for average Americans. The new regulations also include a clause that states drivers must have two periods between 1a.m. and 5a.m. a week off. This, according to the Times, allows drivers to rest at least two nights a week. But, opponents of this rule maintain that this will put more trucks on the road during peak driving hours ultimately congesting the roadways. In fact, “Brian Fielkow, president of Jetco Delivery, said the hours regulations that went into effect last year reduced productivity in the industry by putting more trucks on the road in times of heavy traffic without addressing the safety issue.” But, did the new rules make the roadways safer?

Update: The Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015 was enacted on December 16, 2014, suspending enforcement of requirements for use of the 34-hour restart. For more information see FMCSA’s Federal Register notice:www.fmcsa.dot.gov/regulations/hours-service/hours-service-drivers

The Times reports, “Drivers who begin their workweek with just one nighttime period of rest instead of two were more likely to have lapses in attention and to deviate from their lanes while driving.” However, everyone acknowledges that the exact extent of the problem is difficult to measure because of people either dying in accidents involving drowsiness, or not being willing to tell the truth for fear of penalty. But even the American Trucking Association agreed that, “driver fatigue plays a role in about 7 percent of truck crashes” (other studies sited in the article suggest anywhere from 13-31 percent).

Federal Safety officials and safety advocates believe that the new rules put in place are necessary to protect the public. However, the trucking industry is opposed to the stricter rules and is a force to be reckoned with. With backing from the trucking industry Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, passed an amendment freezing the two periods of rest a week until further studies could be conducted. This leaves a significant part of the new regulations out, and sets the stage for a battle between safety and trucking advocates in the future.

Accidents involving semi trucks are particularly dangerous due to the size and weight differences between them and typical cars. If you or someone you love has been injured in a semi accident please don’t rely on the insurance company to be your advocate. These types of accidents are complicated and it is in the insurance company’s best interest to pay you as little as possible for your pain and suffering. Contact an experienced semi truck accident attorney at Hensley Legal Group, and let us explain your options. A free consultation is always offered, and we work on a contingency fee basis, which means you only pay us if you get paid. Call us to discuss your claim at 1-888-436-7539, or reach us via the web. Fill out the ‘Get Help Now’ form and someone from the office will contact you to talk about your situation.