New HOS regulations may mean more tired truck drivers on roads

More fatigued truck drivers may be on the roads, due to recent Congressional action.

An interstate truck driver's job is one with unpredictable hours and mind-numbing routine at times. Since "time is money" in the industry, drivers are often pressured to work long hours to get their deliveries transported on time. Because of this, truck driver fatigue is a major problem in the industry. Up to 13 percent of truck accidents are caused by driver fatigue, according to the Department of Transportation.

Because of the safety problem driver fatigue presents, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is in charge of issuing hours-of-service (HOS) regulations to minimize this threat. HOS regulations affect how long a truck driver may work in a week, when he or she must take rest breaks and other related aspects. Regrettably, Congress decided to suspend an important portion of the HOS rules, which could cause the number of fatigue-related truck accidents to increase.

What was suspended?

At the end of 2014, Congress voted to suspend portions of the HOS regulations as part of an otherwise unrelated omnibus spending bill. The suspended regulations concerned required overnight rest periods. Under the prior HOS rules, drivers that had completed their maximum 70-hour workweeks could not start another one until they had completed a "restart" period. This restart period required drivers to rest at least 34 hours over two consecutive nighttime periods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. In implementing this rule, the FMCSA believed that it would lead to fewer fatigue-related accidents, since prior studies had shown the human body needs rest the most during this time.

Under the current HOS rules in effect, the 34-hour restart period is still mandatory, but no longer must be taken over two nighttime periods. In addition, the suspension lifted the provision that limited drivers to starting one workweek per week. Now, drivers may be asked to work up to 82 hours per week, provided that the 34-hour restart period is taken before the second workweek commences.

Effect on safety undetermined

The trucking industry, which was the driving force behind the changes, believes that the new rules will reduce truck accidents. It contends that the previous rules required more trucks on the roads during daylight peak hours, which increased the chance of an accident. Since the new rules allow more truckers to work during nighttime periods when fewer cars and other vehicles are on the roads, the number of accidents will decrease, according to the industry.

The FMCSA, on the other hand, believes that the new rules will result in more fatigued drivers. Since the new rules allow drivers to take their restart periods primarily during daylight hours when it is more difficult for the body to get quality rest, it posits that the number of fatigued drivers is likely to increase. By mandating nighttime restart periods, the agency estimates that 1,400 accidents were avoided each year.

If in an accident, speak to an attorney

As the new rules have been in effect only a short while, only time will tell which theory is correct. Unfortunately, in the meantime, many innocent motorists may be needlessly put at risk.

If you or a loved one have been injured in a truck accident, speak to an attorney immediately. The true cause of the accident may not be immediately apparent. Since 1992, attorney Scott J. Corwin has successfully helped thousands of victims in your situation. He can use his considerable experience on your behalf to ensure that the cause of your accident is investigated and the responsible parties are held accountable for their role in causing your injuries.