Truck accidents cause the deaths of about 4,000 people every year. Trucks, however, are vital to the flow of commerce, which means there is a great deal of money at stake anytime issues of truck safety are raised.
Truck drivers are an integral element of the safety equation, as their behavior, from driving while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs, to distraction while illegally texting or watching movies on a cellphone or computer, can cause catastrophic truck accidents that injure or kill other motorists on the roads.
An important factor in the safety equation is the driver’s alertness. The crash last summer that killed one man and severely injured Tracy Morgan appears to have been the result of a truck driver who had not slept in 24 hours and was almost at the end of his 14-hour driving time.
Drowsy driving is a serious problem, but it is often difficult to identify, as it may not be apparent from a crash whether the driver was falling asleep or distracted by another activity. Because of the danger it poses, truck drivers are regulated by the Department of Transportation, both on the number of hours they can work in a week and per day.
Last year, after a decade of litigation, the Hours of Service (HOS) permitted were reduced. Having lost in the regulatory agency and the courts, the trucking industry moved to influence Congress. It found a senator who would help them weaken the anti-fatigue rules and insert a provision in the massive funding bill that they knew the President could not veto.
This provision places a hold on the HOS regulation until October of next year, to allow time for more study. If the trucking industry is behind the study, it is unlikely to support the existing regulations, and will likely lead to permanent weakening of the rules.
It seems a questionable proposition that longer hours will lead to safer truck drivers, but seems to have worked with Congress.
Bloomberg.com, “Maine Senator Is Again Friend to Trucking,” Jeff Plungis, December 15, 2014