Will “Flexible” Trucking Rules Encourage Drowsy Driving?
For years, trucking companies have lobbied against federal hours of service (HOS) rules, which limit the number of hours a driver can operate a commercial vehicle. While these rules are meant to keep everyone on the road safe, the trucking industry argues that they too restrictive and complicated.
Now, a series of proposed changes may loosen these important regulations. In this blog, Crosley Law explains the hours of service rules, the proposed changes, and how you can protect yourself from truck wrecks involving drowsy drivers.
What Are the Hours of Service Rules?
The federal government enacted the first hours of service rules in 1937, due to concerns about truck driver safety and fatigue. Since then, all interstate truck drivers must follow strict rules about the amount of time they can be on the road. To prove their hours of service, drivers had to keep accurate logbooks that track their time driving.
Unfortunately, some drivers and companies kept fraudulent logbooks to avoid penalties and liability. In 2018, electric logging devices (ELDs), which cannot easily be forged, became mandatory for many truckers. By electronically recording truck information and drive times instead of trusting drivers and their employers to accurately report the information, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) drastically improved HOS compliance.
However, the trucking industry opposes these safety rules and is working on loosening them.
The Trucking Industry Pushes for “Flexibility” and Deregulation
Once the ELD mandate forced the industry to follow the existing federal hours of service rules, the truck industry began fighting back. Some of the opposition focuses on the ELD mandate itself. However, the industry is also pushing for deregulation and encouraging the government to create more “flexibility.”
Demands for ELD Exemptions
With encouragement from the trucking lobby, some lawmakers have proposed laws that would exempt companies from ELDs. One such bill applies to small carriers with ten or fewer trucks in their fleet. Supporters of the Small Carrier Electronic Logging Device Exemption Act argue that ELDs are too expensive and burdensome for businesses with small fleets.
However, many small carriers have poor safety records. They are also more likely to be a “chameleon carrier,” or a truck company that re-registers as a new company whenever it develops a poor safety record. This practice sometimes allows them to continue operating when they might otherwise have been shut down.
Other proposed bills include exempting trucks carrying agricultural products or livestock from the mandate.
FMCSA Proposes New “Flexible” HOS Rules
The FMCSA recently published proposed changes to its hours of service rules, in response to complaints from the trucking industry. The changes would permit longer drive times, including:
- Increasing total daily driving times and route lengths, as long as drivers take additional 30-minute breaks
- Decreasing the mandated consecutive hours of sleep to only seven hours
- Allowing trucks to operate longer in adverse weather conditions
While these rules will benefit trucking companies, short breaks and longer drive times may increase the likelihood of drowsy driving.
How Are Driver Fatigue, HOS Rules, and Truck Crashes Connected?
Research clearly shows that drowsy driving increases the risk of a serious wreck. Unfortunately, many trucking companies value speed and profits more than our personal safety. The HOS rules and ELD mandates are powerful tools that can hold coercive companies and reckless drivers accountable.
Driver Fatigue is a Top Ten Contributor in Truck Crashes
Studies show that we need roughly eight hours of uninterrupted sleep to function. Sleep-deprived adults are more likely to suffer from psychological issues like depression, anxiety, and mood swings. Additionally, fatigue has been proven to cause performance deficits that affect driving ability, including:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Decreased reaction times
- Memory issues
- Lower overall productivity
- Poor decision making
In the worst cases, drivers can lose consciousness.
“By electronically recording truck information and drive times instead of trusting drivers and their employers to accurately report the information, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) drastically improved HOS compliance.”
According to FMCSA’s Large Truck Crash Causation Study, driver fatigue is one of the top ten causes of truck crashes. The study found that fatigue causes 13% of truck crashes and has one of the highest relative risks among the other top ten contributors—only driver inattention ranked higher than fatigue in both frequency and risk. While 13% may not sound like much, this means that tens of thousands of crashes are caused primarily by fatigue every single year.
To make matters worse, most experts believe that drowsy driving is underreported and underestimated.
Hours of Service Rules Decrease Truck Driver Fatigue
There have been countless studies linking truck drivers’ time on the road and fatigue. In 2016, a group of government and independent agencies compiled decades worth of truck driving data that assessed fatigue. The results varied based on the type of truck, routes, and number of participants in each study.
However, there were some common trends. There is a clear link between a driver’s time on the road and their level of fatigue. At least one study found that taking breaks from driving, like those required under the HOS rules, increased safety.
Crosley Law Fights for Victims of Truck Accidents
Although the FMCSA claims that flexible HOS rules will not compromise our safety, the truck accident attorneys at Crosley Law are not convinced. Our attorneys have experience investigating truck companies and have first-hand knowledge of how they attempt to manipulate the law, sacrificing safety for profits. Allowing additional flexibility in the HOS rules will likely result in more companies forcing drivers to exceed their allowed driving hours.
If you or a loved one has been in a truck wreck, please contact us today to speak with one of our experienced attorneys about your case. Call 210-LAW-3000 | 210-529-3000 or complete this brief online form to schedule your free consultation today.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. (June 2018). Electronic logging devices: Improving safety through technology [infographic]. Washington, DC.: U.S. Department of Transportation. Retrieved from https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/sites/fmcsa.dot.gov/files/docs/regulations/enforcement/406471/eld-infographic-6-month-update-f2508621.pdf
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Publishes Hours of Service Proposal to Improve Safety and Increase Flexibility for Commercial Drivers. (2019). Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Retrieved from https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/newsroom/federal-motor-carrier-safety-administration-publishes-hours-service-proposal-improve-safety
Field, A. (14 January 2009). Why sleep is so important. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2009/01/why-sleep-is-so-important.html
Jaillet, J. (21 March 2019). Bill to exempt small carriers from ELD mandate filed in U.S. House. Commercial Carrier Journal. Retrieved from https://www.ccjdigital.com/bill-to-exempt-small-carriers-from-eld-mandate-on-deck-in-u-s-house/
Panel on Research Methodologies and Statistical Approaches to Understanding Driver Fatigue Factors in Motor Carrier Safety and Driver Health. (2016, August 12). 7, Fatigue, Hours of Service, and Highway Safety. In Commercial Motor Vehicle Driver Fatigue, Long-Term Health, and Highway Safety: Research Needs. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK384974/
The large truck crash causation study (July 2007). Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Retrieved from https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/safety/research-and-analysis/large-truck-crash-causation-study-analysis-brief
Watson, N., Badr, M., Belenky, G., Bliwise, D., Buxton, O., Buysse, D.,… Tasali, E. (2015). Joint consensus statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society on the recommended amount of sleep for a healthy adult: methodology and discussion. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 11(8), 931–952. Retrieved from https://aasm.org/resources/pdf/pressroom/adult-sleep-duration-methods.pdf
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.
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