Will suspended FMCSA rest regulations result in more truck accidents?

Congress has suspended FMCSA rules regulating overnight rest periods and limiting hours worked for truckers, which could lead to more truck accidents.

It's not uncommon for truckers to experience fatigue because of their long, irregular work hours. Unfortunately, the consequences can be deadly. According to NBC News, Department of Transportation data shows that driver fatigue contributes to 13 percent of large truck accidents. Many people in Burlington remember the tragic consequences of a 2014 New Jersey crash, in which a sleep-deprived truck driver struck Tracy Morgan's limo bus, taking the life of comedian James McNair.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's hours-of-service rules are designed to prevent these needless fatigue-related accidents. Among other things, the rules establish mandatory rest periods and limit the number of hours that truckers can drive in one stretch or over a workweek, according to The Washington Post. Recently, though, Congress suspended part of these rules, which could lead to more fatigued driving and related accidents.

Rule suspension

At the end of 2014, Congress passed an omnibus spending bill that suspended the FMCSA's overnight rest period requirement. Before the passage of the bill, truckers had to start each working week with a 34-hour rest period, which had to include two overnight rest periods stretching from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. Now, truckers still need a 34-hour break between workweeks, but no overnight rests are required.

The Washington Post notes that the overnight rest requirements, along with other FMCSA regulations, previously effectively limited truckers to a 70-hour workweek. Under the new bill, drivers may reach an 82-hour workweek. This significant increase in hours worked could significantly raise the risk of accidents involving exhausted truck drivers.

Safety impacts

Supporters of the rule suspension maintain that the change should decrease truck accidents, since the mandatory rest periods forced truckers to drive during peak daytime traffic hours. Now, more truckers can use the roads at late hours when traffic is minimal. Supporters also contend that truckers are skilled at monitoring their own levels of fatigue and judging when they can safely drive.

Still, reports of fatigued truck driving accidents and research from the DOT suggest that this isn't always the case. DOT studies have found that truckers can be prone to misjudge their own levels of fatigue, leading to dangerous decisions. Truckers who push through fatigue are also less attentive to driving, raising the risk of accidents and catastrophic injuries to others.

The toll of suspending the overnight rest rule may be significant. According to The Sun-Sentinel, the FMCSA has estimated that the rule has the following impacts on roadway safety each year:

  • Eliminates 1,400 accidents
  • Prevents 560 injuries
  • Saves 19 lives

According to The Washington Post, the suspension of the rule expires in September. The nine-month suspension will give the DOT time to investigate the safety benefits and potential side effects of the rule. Sadly, in the meantime, accidents involving fatigued truckers may harm many people in New Jersey.

Legal options

When truck drivers engage in reckless or negligent behaviors and cause accidents as a result, victims may have legal recourse. Given the known role that fatigue plays in truck accidents, the decision to drive while exhausted or violate FMCSA regulations may constitute negligence.

In New Jersey, victims of truck accidents may be entitled to compensation for medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering. However, victims only have two years to exercise their rights and file personal injury claims. Victims may benefit from consulting with a personal injury attorney well before this deadline to better understand their rights and options.

Keywords: truck, accident, injury