Two transportation spending bills being considered by the U.S. House and Senate, respectively, could permanently change the rules governing the amount and timing of rest that long-haul truckers are required to take. Safety advocates argue that the change would be to the detriment of roadway safety.
The rule which stands at risk of being eliminated is a modification of the 34-hour reset rule established in 2013. According to federal law, long-haul truck drivers may not drive more than 60 hours in a seven-day period, or more than 70 hours in an eight-day period. Drivers may reset their week by taking a 34-hour break. Under an addition to this rule made in 2013, drivers were limited to taking one 34-hour break a week, which needed to include two periods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. in order to ensure that drivers received enough sleep. In 2014, Congress asked the Department of Transportation to conduct a study on whether or not the overnight requirement had an effect on safety, and suspended the overnight requirement until the study was completed. However, the bill before the House would permanently eliminate the overnight requirement before the results of the study can be considered.
The change has encountered opposition from politicians and safety advocates alike, including Christopher Hart, the director of the National Transportation Safety Board. At the beginning of 2016, the NTSB cited driver fatigue as one of the most pressing safety concerns for U.S. road safety. “Most commercial transportation is 24/7, but humans are not,” Hart noted. One example cited by Hart to illustrate the dangers posed by fatigued long-haul drivers was that of the accident that nearly took the life of actor Tracy Morgan and killed a fellow passenger on the bus in which he was traveling. “Amazingly, the driver was in compliance with the applicable rest and duty time rules, yet he had been awake for 28 straight hours before the crash.”
Sen. Cory Booker, a senator on the committee overseeing the regulation of truckers, stated, “[p]ushing truckers to the point of exhaustion puts them and others on the road at risk. It is our job as lawmakers to ensure appropriate guidelines are in place to protect these drivers and the individuals and families traveling on our nation’s highways.”
It is worth noting that the bills which would eliminate the overnight 34-hour reset requirement are both spending bills, rather than standalone bills on the specific topic of large commercial truck driving. Many safety advocates say that these measures are included in spending bills so that they escape widespread public attention and critique. Peter Kurdock, the director of regulatory affairs for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, observed, “[t]hey never get a hearing in front of Congress; they’re tucked into these things to avoid public scrutiny. . . . Driver fatigue is a real problem in the trucking industry. Rolling back hours of service is simply going to exacerbate a problem that everyone is aware of.”
If you or someone you love has been injured in an accident with a tractor-trailer or other large truck, seek legal help in getting the compensation you’re owed for your injuries by contacting the Spartanburg personal injury law firm Anderson, Moore, Bailey & Nowell, LLC for a consultation on your case, at 864-641-6431.