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Trucking industry continues to fight important safety regulations

By this point, most Americans have heard about the devastating truck accident involving comedian Tracy Morgan. Earlier this month, a truck driver who was dangerously fatigued crashed into a vehicle carrying Morgan and several other passengers. The accident resulted in one death and left Morgan and two others in critical condition.

Drowsy or fatigued driving is a major cause of auto accidents on roads and highways here in California and around the country. Fatigue is especially dangerous in the trucking industry for two reasons. First, due to the way that truck drivers are compensated, miles and time behind the wheel are prioritized over sleep and rest. Second, truck drivers who fall asleep behind the wheel of their giant vehicles often cause truck accidents with multiple fatalities.

Federal regulators have been trying for decades to impose rules that govern hours of service in the trucking industry in an attempt to combat fatigued driving. About a year ago, such rules were enacted. The new hours-of-service rules:

  • Reduce maximum weekly driving time from 82 hours to 70 hours
  • Limit daily driving time to no more than 11 hours with a mandatory 30-minute break
  • Require drivers to take a 34-hour rest break before starting a new weekly driving cycle
  • Require that the 34-hour rest break includes two consecutive days where drivers are off the road between 1:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m.

These hours-of-service rules are very reasonable and are based scientific studies about sleep and fatigue. But less than a year after the HOS rules were enacted, trucking industry representatives are already lobbying Congress to freeze or repeal them.

The crash that severely injured Tracy Morgan has brought renewed national attention to the dangers of fatigued truckers, but the problem is ever present. Some 30,000 people per year are killed in accidents on U.S. highways, and approximately one in seven occur in accidents involving large trucks.

The trucking industry wants to roll back these important safety rules in the name of profit and efficiency. But the cost of that tradeoff is simply too high.

Source: The New York Times, “Truckers Resist Rules on Sleep, Despite Risks of Drowsy Driving,” Jad Mouawad and Elizabeth A. Harris, June 16, 2014

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