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Trucker Fatigue: Will we see new truck regulations?

This past June, comedian Tracy Morgan was involved in a truck accident that sent him and two others to the hospital with severe injuries and tragically killed comedian James McNair. The cause of the accident is officially speeding, as the Wal-Mart truck driver was going 65 mph in a 45 mph construction zone. Further, a criminal complaint states that the driver had not slept for more than 24 hours.

Even if that turns out to be untrue, his logbooks show that he was on hour 13.5 of a 14-hour maximum shift. Many speculate that he was fatigued, and wonder whether he would have noticed the speed limit reduction had he been more alert. It certainly has safety groups pressuring the government to look into the problem of trucker fatigue.

What are the current hours of service limitations for truck drivers?

Drivers must follow a few maximum duty limits:

  • The 14-hour limit: the driver cannot be on duty after the 14th hour after coming on duty following a 10-hour off-duty period. This encompasses the daily driving limit and any non-driving work such as loading and unloading freight, mapping out routes, or inspecting the vehicle. After the 14 hours, the driver must take 10 hours off before starting his next workday.
  • The11-hour driving limit: within the 14-hour period, the driver may spend only 11 of those hours driving.
  • 30-minute break: drivers must take a half-hour break if more than eight consecutive hours passed since the driver’s last off-duty or sleeper berth period.
  • The 60-hour/7-day and 70-hour/8-day duty limits: these ensure that truck drivers take enough time off for a longer rest. Anytime a truck driver works more than 60 hours in a 7-day period or 70 hours in an 8-day period, he must take required 34 hours off. After his 34-hour rest, he can reset his hours and start again.

What are proposed changes to the rules?

Shortly before the accident mentioned above, a Senate committee “voted to suspend a requirement that drivers include two 1 a.m.-5 a.m. periods in their 34-hour restart period…and only take a restart once within a week,” writes to Mark Szakonyi, senior editor at the Journal of Commerce (JOC).

After the accident, though, some started calling for stricter regulations. James P. Hoffa, the Teamsters union president, urged House members to reject any changes to the 2013 hours of service rules mentioned above, reports William B. Cassidy, also a senior editor at the JOC.

In a later article, Cassidy reported that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is leaving the doors open to potential changes. He quotes Larry W. Minor, associate administrator for policy at the FMCSA, as stating, “We never intended the December 2011 rule to be the end of everything we want to do in terms of hours of service.”

Whatever the rules, though, if a trucker is driving unsafely – whether driving while fatigued and falling asleep, speeding, or driving under the influence, for example – he is liable for accidents he causes, as is his employer. David Bressman helps truck accident victims in Columbus pursue fair compensation if injured in a wreck – call 866-777-6680.

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