The Department of Transportation is hoping to overhaul regulations on long haul truck drivers. Truckers have lobbied for years to make the rigid “hours of service” rules more flexible, but highway safety advocates say it’s dangerous-citing fatigue as the one of the biggest causes of truck driver crashes.
The NTSB is warning the contemplated changes would dangerously weaken the regulations, resulting in truckers putting in even longer days at a time when they say driver fatigue is such a serious problem. They point to new government data that shows fatal crashes involving trucks weighing as much as 80,000 pounds have increased.
There were nearly 4,700 fatal crashes involving large trucks in 2017, a 10% increase from the year before, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
60 of the truckers in these accidents were identified as “asleep or fatigued,” although the National Transportation Safety Board has said this type of driver impairment is likely under reported on police crash forms.
The NTSB has declared fatigue a “pervasive problem” in all forms of transportation and added reducing fatigue-related accidents to its 2019-2020 “most wanted list ” of safety improvements. A groundbreaking study by the Transportation Department more than a decade ago reported 13% of truck drivers involved in crashes that resulted in fatalities or injuries were fatigued at the time of the accidents.
The trucking industry has developed a strong relationship with President Donald Trump, who has made rolling back layers of regulatory oversight a top priority. At least a dozen transportation safety rules under development or already adopted were repealed, withdrawn, delayed or put on the back burner during Trump’s first year in office.
The regulations currently limit long-haul truckers to 11 hours of driving time within a 14-hour on-duty window. They must have had 10 consecutive hours off duty before the on-duty clock starts anew. And a driver who is going to be driving for more than eight hours must take a 30-minute break before hitting the eight-hour mark.