Preventing Truck Accidents: FMCSA's New Hours-of-Service Regulations
Last July, new hours-of-service limits went into effect for truck drivers in California and throughout the United States.
“Professional trucking groups had fought the changes in court,” explained a California truck accident attorney, “but the U.S. Court of Appeals retained the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s new limits, which are designed to prevent drowsy driving accidents.”
Hours-of-Service Limits and Drowsy Driving Crashes
Drowsy driving is a major problem in California and throughout the United States. A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study found that 4.8 percent of the 17,608 California residents responding to the survey admitted to falling asleep behind the wheel at least one time in the prior 30 days. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) also reports that drowsy driving causes an estimated 100,000 accidents each year, resulting in 40,000 injuries and 1,550 deaths.
While drowsy driving is difficult to prevent among the general public, the FMCSA does have rules in place to prevent drowsy truckers from driving. These rules limit the number of hours that a commercial driver can be on duty and operate a vehicle before being mandated to take a break.
In December 2011, the FMCSA announced a change to these hours-of-service rules, limiting the maximum average workweek for truck drivers to 70 hours, down from a prior limit of 82 hours. Once a driver has reached the 70-hour limit, the FMCSA mandates 34 consecutive hours of rest before the driver can operate the truck again. This rest break must include two overnight periods.
While the new rule retained an eleven-hour daily driving limit and retained the 14-hour work day limit, the rules also require truck drivers to take a 30-minute break during the first eight hours of their shift.
The goal of the new limits is to reduce the number of drowsy driving accidents that occur. The FMCSA reports that long daily and weekly hours are associated with chronic fatigue and increase the risk of accidents. The tougher limits are expected to prevent approximately 1,400 accidents and 560 injuries every year.
The FMCSA gave drivers 18 months to adjust to the changes and adopt the new rules, so while they were passed in December 2011, the new limits did not go into effect until July 1, 2013. In the interim period, professional trucking groups challenged the new limits in court and attempted to get the new regulations reversed.
“The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued a ruling shortly after the FMCSA limits went into effect,” explained the California truck accident attorney, "indicating that the rules would be retained with the exception of the 30-minute break requirement for short-haul drivers.”
Training in the Trucking Industry
While drowsy driving is undeniably a major cause for concern, there are also deficiencies in the requirements for truck driver training.
The Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986 created the Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) program and imposed basic minimum requirements before someone would be permitted to drive a truck.
Starting in April of 1992, the requirement that truck drivers have a commercial license became mandatory throughout the United States. The type of license required varies depending upon the type of vehicle driven, with drivers operating vehicles between 10,000 and 26,001 pounds requiring a Class A license and drivers operating vehicles in excess of 26,001 pounds requiring a Class B license. Qualifications were also created for commercial drivers transporting passengers; these drivers must have a Class C license.
To obtain any type of commercial license, drivers must complete various steps including passing a knowledge and skills test, as well as passing a driving test. A check of the applicant’s driving record is also required.
There are no requirements that CDL schools provide students with the necessary training to safely drive trucks or that instructions in these schools meet minimum basic levels of qualifications. As a result, there are so-called “CDL mills” throughout the country that train drivers to pass the commercial license tests but that do not adequately prepare them to safely operate a vehicle. As many as 80 percent of truck accidents are caused by so-called “human factors.”
Improving Safety Requirements
“A shortage of qualified drivers has left many trucking companies understaffed, causing employers to put more pressure on truckers to drive long hours and to keep tough schedules,” explained the California truck accident attorney. “Without strict FMCSA hours-of-service rules, this could cause more drivers to continue to operate vehicles when they are tired and increase the risk of crashes.”
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