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Important, life-saving changes the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) put in place to reduce truck driver fatigue and fatigue-related truck accidents are at risk because some in Congress want to suspend the new rule, as Anne Ferro writes for the DOT’s blog, Fastlane. 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. The changes would be suspended under an amendment that was set for a vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday.

There has been an 18% increase in large truck crash fatalities since 2009, Ferro writes, adding:

To put that in perspective, in one year alone, large trucks were involved in 317,000 traffic crashes resulting in an average of 75 deaths per week. That’s 11 per day.

Driver fatigue is a prime cause of crashes involving large trucks, Ferro writes. Data shows that more than 13% of commercial drivers involved in accidents were drowsy at the time of their crashes, she writes. Driver fatigue is under-reported in accident accounts because drivers often do not want to admit they were sleepy or to blame, Ferro writes.

A National Sleep Foundation (NSF) white paper, “Consequences of Drowsy Driving,” reports that, according to a study published in 1997 by Dawson and Reid, and another one published by Powell in 2001, sleepiness can impair driving performance as much as or more than alcohol. And in 2010, AAA reported that 27% of drivers surveyed admitted they had driven “while they were ‘so sleepy that [they] had a hard time keeping [their] eyes open’ within the past month,” NFS writes.

The DOT instituted the changes limiting the number of hours a truck driver can drive because of the increase in accidents involving large trucks and because drowsy driving can cause accidents, Ferro writes. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) put into effect the new Hours-of-Service rule less than a year ago to make sure that truck drivers have enough rest before operating 80,000-pound trucks on the road with motorists, Ferro writes. The changes improve safety by reducing the maximum average work week for truckers from 82 to 70 hours, and requiring them to take a 30-minute break during the first eight hours of their shift, Ferro writes.

DOT created the new regulations after carefully considering public safety and health risks and soliciting input from all who have a stake in the issue, including victims’ advocates, truck drivers, and companies, Ferro writes. Analysis shows that the resulting rule saves 19 lives and prevents about 1,400 crashes and 560 injuries annually. The updated rule impacts less than 15% of truck drivers, those who had the most extreme schedules, Ferro notes.

Victims of such accidents have been testifying in support of the revised rule, Ferro writes, adding:

[T]hese families remind all of us at the FMCSA that our work is not done until everyone on the road can make it home safely at the end of the day. And as a wife and mother of two, I am committed to preventing tragedies like those that have been shared with me.

In a related news item, on May 21 the FMCSA reminded interstate truck and bus drivers that beginning on that day all new Department of Transportation physicals have to be performed by a “qualified health professional” listed on the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners. DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx said:

Medical examiners equipped with a thorough understanding of DOT fitness standards will be able to ensure that commercial drivers meet the health requirements necessary to operate on our highways and roads, thereby strengthening safety for every traveler.

All interstate commercial truck and bus drivers need to pass a DOT medical exam at least once every two years to legally operate a commercial motor vehicle, FMCSA’s press releases says.

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