Congress rolls back safeguards against truck driver fatigue

The suspension of certain provisions of the HOS rules may bring more fatigue-related truck accidents.

In Colorado, as elsewhere in the United States, large trucks play an important part in quickly and efficiently transporting goods to market. Because of this, semi-trucks are a very common sight on Colorado roads. A downside to this proliferation of trucks is an increased risk of truck accidents. Since these trucks outweigh cars and SUVs many times over, there is a great risk of injury or death when truck accidents occur. Unfortunately, a recent act of Congress may make this type of accidents happen more often.

One of the leading causes of truck accidents is driver fatigue. To help combat this problem, in mid-2013, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) amended the hours of service (HOS) regulations. These regulations control how long a truck driver may work in a week and when rest breaks are required.

Specifically, the new HOS rules reduced drivers' maximum workweek to 70 hours, a 12-hour decrease from the former rules. Additionally, the new rules required drivers to rest for 34 consecutive hours over two nighttime periods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. This requirement was derived from prior studies that showed that drivers that rested during this period reported feeling less fatigued. The FMCSA believed that requiring all drivers to rest during this time would significantly reduce fatigue-related accidents.

Rules suspended

Unfortunately, the new HOS rules did not get much of a chance to work their intended purpose. Under pressure from trucking companies, which opposed the new rules from the beginning, Congress recently voted to suspend parts of the new rules in the recently passed $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill signed into law in December 2014.

Specifically, the suspension targeted the nighttime rest period requirement. As a result of the suspension, truck drivers may now take their 34-hour rest breaks at any time during the day. This means that many drivers may now be forced to take their breaks primarily during the daytime, which may make it more difficult for many to get quality sleep. As a result, fatigue-related accidents may increase.

Although the nighttime rest requirement is suspended, its days may not be done. In the new law, Congress allowed the FMCSA to bring the requirement back, but only after conducting a study to prove that it is effective at reducing fatigue-related accidents. Assuming that a study returns favorable results, the FMCSA may bring back the new provision as early as September 2015.

Speak to an attorney

It seems that once again, the trucking industry has chosen to put profits over the safety of its drivers and other motorists. However, families of motorists that are killed in truck accidents caused by fatigue are not powerless. Under the law, certain close family members may be entitled to seek compensation for medical bills, loss of income, pain and suffering, funeral expenses, and other expenses from the responsible driver or trucking company in a wrongful death lawsuit.

If you or a loved one have been killed in a truck accident, an experienced personal injury attorney can listen to your situation and advise you further on the avenues of recovery available to you.