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Federal appellate ruling upholds truck driver fatigue rules

Earlier this month, a federal appellate panel upheld rules aimed at reducing the risk of driver fatigue in the trucking industry. The issues of distracted driving and drunk driving in the general public often garner a great deal of media attention (as the issues present serious hazards to motorists and pedestrians who may be in the zone of danger when a driver negligently drives drunk or is inattentive on the road). Issues of drowsy driving, however, can also present increased risks for motorists and others on, or near, any Missouri road.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that in 2011, more than 3,700 people died in truck accidents on our nation’s roads. The agency estimates that somewhere around 88,000 people suffered personal injuries in truck accidents that same year. About 13 percent of all commercial vehicle accidents in 2011 were tied to truck driver fatigue, the NHTSA says.

In 1999, Congress stepped in to create mandatory rules concerning the number of hours that truckers could be on the road. Rules and ideas bounced around over the years as the trucking industry, safety advocates and others battled over what may or may not serve public safety.

In 2011, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration promulgated rules, which served as the basis of the most recent court challenge. A federal appellate court upheld important aspects of the rule (a short-haul rest requirement was vacated by the ruling). The main provisions, involving an 11-hour daily driving limit and a 70 hour weekly cap before a driver is required to have a 34-consecutive hour rest period, were upheld by the court.

The concepts of driver fatigue and road safety in the over-the-road trucking industry are vitally important to all of us. But, some advocates for the trucking industry say that the rules will only increase trucking costs without improving safety on the roads.

Although the rules are not as strong as safety advocates had hoped for, hopefully the rules will further reduce the number of truck accidents that occur each year. While drowsy driving can increase risks on the road, many other factors may be involved in accidents on Missouri’s thoroughfares, highways and other roads. Each step toward reducing the risk of accidents where a victim is harmed by a negligent driver is a step forward.

Source: Bloomberg, "Trucking Industry Loses Challenge to U.S. Drive-Time Rule,” Tom Schoenberg and Jeff Plungis, Aug. 2, 2013