Despite pleas from consumer activists and safety advocates, Congress is positioned to temporarily roll back recently implemented safety rules that require rest periods for truck drivers as part of a provision in a year-end budget deal sent to President Obama this past December. The rules had required drivers, after working 70 hours over eight days, to rest for 34 hours before beginning another work week and to include a rest period comprising two consecutive nights from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. Under the change, however, truckers would be able to work as many as 82 hours a week. The suspension is set to last until October 2015 while a study is conducted about the number of trucks driven on congested roads.
This is not the first time that U.S. lawmakers have attempted to delay the rules. An earlier attempt in June 2014 happened to coincide with a major 18-wheeler wreck involving a Walmart truck that critically injured comedian Tracy Morgan and killed fellow comedian James McNair. Although trucker Kevin Roper pleaded “not guilty” to charges of vehicular homicide and assault by auto and claimed to be acting within the bounds of federal law, a police report showed that he had been awake for 24 hours and was nearing the end of a 14-hour shift. Today, Morgan is struggling with a traumatic brain injury and may not be able to perform ever again.
According to Bloomberg, truck crashes caused 3,912 deaths in 2012, and the fatal crash rate increased each year from 2009 through 2012, reversing a five-year trend. The hours-of-service regulation was expected to prevent 1,400 truck crashes a year, saving 19 lives and avoiding 560 injuries. Public Citizen reports that every year, 4,000 people are killed and more than 100,000 are injured in crashes involving trucks. Truck crashes cost the American people and our economy $99 billion annually. Nearly half of all truck drivers admitted to falling asleep behind the wheel at least once in the previous year, according to a 2006 study.
Despite claims from trucking companies that a theoretical 82-hour work week for truckers would be very rare, our law firm and many others across the nation have witnessed the horrendous tragedies that take place when trucking companies skirt or break the boundaries of the law by pushing drivers past comfortable limits, compromising highway safety in the process. U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who strongly opposed the suspension, said in a letter to the appropriations committees considering the plan, “The evidence clearly shows that truck drivers are better rested and more alert after two nights of sleep than one night, and that unending 80-hour work weeks lead to driver fatigue and compromise highway safety.”