The U.S. Department of Transportation is looking to relax current federal regulations that govern the amount of time commercial truck drivers can be on the road without taking a rest break. This could lead to an increase of fatigued truck drivers on the nation’s highways which, in turn, could result in more deadly trucking accidents.
Current regulations limit the drive time of long-haul commercial truck drivers to 11 hours of a 14-hour on-duty day. A driver must then take 10 consecutive hours off before the clock can start again, and if they are going to be driving for more than 8 hours, they must take a rest break of a minimum of 30 minutes before they can drive again. Essentially a driver cannot exceed 70 hours of driving in eight days. This is known as the 70-hour rule.
Even with such drive time regulations for commercial truck drivers, serious accidents involving fatigued truck drivers are all too common. In 2017, there were 4,657 fatal truck crashes, a 10% increase from the prior year. A study by the National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) found that a significant percent of fatal accidents involving truck drivers was caused by fatigue. In fact, sleep deprivation and fatigue has been noted to be one of the most frequent causes of fatal large truck accidents. The NTSB has recognized that truck driver fatigue is a “pervasive problem” and has declared reducing fatigue-related accidents as one of its “most wanted” safety improvements of 2019-2020.
The new regulations currently being considered for commercial truck drivers include eliminating the 30-minute rest break required if driving for more than eight hours. The trucking industry believes relaxing this requirement will result in more flexible hours for drivers and more efficient delivery routes.
Highway safety advocates, however, believe that eliminating the required breaks and allowing for longer drive times will encourage commercial truck drivers to put in longer days, thereby increasing the risk of drowsy and fatigued truck drivers on the road. Statistics have shown that accidents involving passenger vehicles and large commercial trucks usually result in catastrophic injuries to multiple parties.
Sufficient sleep is essential for a commercial truck driver to function safely on the road. Lack of sleep and fatigue impairs a driver’s vision and ability to react to road and traffic conditions. Fatigue can also affect a driver’s judgment and increase aggressive driving behaviors on the road. All of these coupled with the fact that a commercial truck can weigh upwards of 80,000 pounds can lead to deadly results if a truck driver has not had proper rest times between shifts.
Even when an accident is caused by truck driver fatigue, the trucking company will often try to distance itself from the cause in an effort to avoid being held liable for injuries or death. Often times, the trucking company will try to blame the equipment or claim that the truck driver was not their employee and not under their supervision. This is why when you are involved in an accident with a commercial truck, it is essential that you speak with an attorney experienced in dealing with the trucking industry in order to navigate the defense tactics and maximize your recovery.