Trump’s Hours of Service Rules Could Lead to More Fatigue-Related Truck Crashes

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As the Trump administration prepares to debut “reformed” Hours of Service rules, safety advocates are growing increasingly concerned that the final revisions will allow even more dangerously overworked and fatigued truck drivers to take to the road.

Hours of Service Rule Revisions an Industry Gift

According to the Associated Press, the federal Hours of Service rules were initially enacted in the 1930s.  Among other things, the regulations limit long-haul truckers to 11 hours of driving time within a 14-hour on-duty window and require a 30-minute break after 8 hours behind the wheel.

The trucking lobby is fairly optimistic that its close relationship with the Trump administration will produce much weaker Hours of Service regulations, one of the industry’s long-sought goals.

“First of all, this administration is not as aggressive as the prior,” Bill Sullivan, the top lobbyist for the American Trucking Associations, told the Associated Press. “Most importantly, the partnership with them has not been as suspicious of industry as in the past.”

Big trucking’s optimism is well founded, as its coziness with the White House has already paid off in other areas.

Within months of the President’s swearing in, for example, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) dropped a proposal that would have required all commercial drivers to undergo medical screening for Obstructive Sleep Apnea. The frequently undiagnosed condition greatly increases the likelihood that a  driver will fall asleep at the wheel and raises the risk for a crash by as much as 123%.

Will Hours of Service Reforms Eliminate 30-Minute Break Mandate?

Last August, the Trump administration proposed revising four key components of the Hours of Service regulations, including the 30-minute break rule.  While it’s not exactly clear how the provision would change, industry groups are pushing for its total elimination.

“This is not rocket science stuff,” Todd Spencer, president Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, told the Associated Press. “Rest when it makes sense to rest. Drive when it makes sense to drive.”

His group has instead proposed permitting truckers to stop the 14-hour clock for up to 3-hours, during which time they could rest or merely wait out heavy traffic. But critics say this creates a 17-hour work window, greatly increasing the likelihood for fatigue-related crashes.

Fatigue-Related Truck Crashes Continue to Be a Problem

In May, the FMCSA reported that 18-wheeler accidents and other large truck crashes were up 10% in 2017. Even with the current Hours of Service limits, at least 60 truckers involved in those incidents admitted to being asleep or fatigued at the time. Unfortunately, the true number is likely higher, as police accident reports often fail to note this type of driver impairment.

Meanwhile, the National Transportation Safety Board considers driver fatigue a pervasive problem, and once again called for measures to reduce fatigued-related truck crashes in its 2019 list of “most wanted” safety improvements.

Yet the Trump-era FMCSA has put true safety initiatives – such as a proposal to mandate the use of speed-limiting software on commercial trucks — on the back burner in order to focus on Hours of Service revisions and other regulatory rollbacks that appeal to the President’s industry allies.

“None of this should be up for consideration,” Harry Adler, executive director of the Truck Safety Coalition, told the Associated Press. “There is no reason for any of this.”

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