Senate Committee Seeks to Weaken Some Important Trucking Regulations Meant to Combat Driver Fatigue

Date: June 17, 2014

Recent action by the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee in the area of federal truck safety regulations has many up in arms. The Committee added an amendment to a funding bill that repeals certain Hours of Service regulation changes enacted last summer for truckers. The timing of this effort has drawn a great deal of attention and criticism, coming days before the June 7th six-vehicle pileup caused by a tractor-trailer driver, injuring comedian Tracy Morgan and killing his writer James McNair.

The federal HOS rules apply to motor carriers and cargo-carrying commercial motor vehicle drivers who must comply with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration rules. These are commercial interstate drivers and intrastate commercial drivers in states that have adopted the HOS rules.

The 34-hour Restart

There are a number of provisions enacted through the HOS regulations for applicable commercial truckers. The Senate Committee vote deals with the 34 hour “restart” rule. Once a driver has driven 60 hours over seven consecutive days or 70 hours over eight consecutive days, he must take a break from driving for at least 34 consecutive hours. This is known as a “restart” period. In an effort to combat driver fatigue, the FMCSA enacted some changes to this rule that took effect July 1, 2013. This included a provision imposing two mandatory off-duty rest periods from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m during the restart. Additionally, drivers may only use the 34-hour restart once a week. That means at least 168 hours must pass between restarts. The FMCSA had already cut the maximum workweek for long-haul drivers from 82 hours to 70 with earlier legislation.

Resistance from the Trucking Industry

The trucking industry has been lobbying against the new provisions since they took effect. Republican Senator Susan Collins backed the Committee’s actions, explaining that the new rules “have had unintended consequences that are not in the best interest of carriers, shippers and the public.” Those in opposition of the new restart rules complain of added traffic congestion because truckers may no longer stagger the start of their new driving week. The 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. requirement is putting a much larger number of truckers on the road at the same time, and it’s during the morning when traffic is at its peak. The trucking industry claims that the nearly 30 percent decrease in tractor-truck-related fatalities from 2000 to 2012, demonstrates its ability to reduce accidents through its own efforts.

Is Safety Being Sacrificed?

The FMCSA maintains that studies show the new regulations will prevent approximately 1,400 semi-truck collisions, save 19 lives and prevent 560 injuries each year. The organization’s counter to the trucking industry is that the 4,000 annual truck accident average is still too high.

Patrick Dougherty
Lecturer for the PA Trial Lawyers Association and the PA Bar Institute. Board Certified In Civil Trial Advocacy by the National Board of Trial Advocacy