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Safety Advocates Concerned Congress Could Relax Trucker Safety Law

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Truck on I-70 in Colorado

Truck on I-70 in Colorado

For the safety of everyone on the roads, it is important for Congress to keep the changes that were made to the 2013 federal hours-of-service rule for truck drivers, writes Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx on DOT’s Fast Lane blog. In his post, titled “Why We Care About Truck Driver Fatigue,” Foxx writes that there are Congressional efforts to suspend that update, via a rider that could be included in the final Appropriations bill for the year.

Foxx continues:

I have voiced my strong objection to that rider. This rider will have the effect of once again allowing a segment of the trucking industry to operate an average of as many as 82 hours per week. The best science tells us that’s unsafe and will put lives at risk. Our responsibility to the traveling public requires us to warn Congress of these risks and urge reconsideration.

Kevin Jones writes for CCJ that those supporting the rider say it would be a “minor tweak.” However, he writes, it is a major change that would significantly increase the number of hours truckers are allowed to drive, according to a letter sent to Foxx by a coalition of families of accident victims, and representatives of consumer, labor, health, and safety organizations. “The coalition again cites driver fatigue and the high profile accident involving comedian Tracy Morgan, also from last June as the amendment was being considered in the Senate,” Jones writes. As this blog reported in June:

In an article appearing on InsuranceJournal.com, Jeff Plungis writes that if Congress succeeds in getting the changes dropped, that will defeat what has been a 15-year effort to reduce drowsy-driving accidents involving truckers.

It was brought to the attention of the DOT that “a segment” of the trucking industry is often driving their vehicles at the maximum number of hours permitted, Foxx writes. He adds that some truckers operating under the old rules have been adding one full work shift per week. But new research finds that a schedule of long work hours without sufficient rest time leads to reduced sleep and chronic fatigue. That fatigue slows drivers’ reaction times and reduces their ability to assess situations quickly, Foxx writes. He notes that driver fatigue is a leading factor in the deaths of nearly 4,000 people in the U.S. each year as a result of large truck accidents.

As Foxx writes, the rule is complicated, but the updates to it would require that truck drivers take a 30-minute rest break within the first eight hours of their shift, in order to stay alert while driving; and would require that truckers have the opportunity to take a real rest and catch up on sleep before working another week. “The net effect of these changes was to reduce the average maximum week a driver could work from 82 hours to 70 hours,” Foxx writes. Those are the changes that many in Congress are seeking to get rid of with the rider.

Image by Bradley Gordon

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