One of the leading causes of truck accidents in the United States is driver fatigue. This is not surprising, given that drivers must often drive as far as cross-country on tight deadlines. As a result, it is seemingly inevitable that drivers would be tempted to sacrifice a few hours of sleep if it means that they make their deliveries on time.
New HOS Rules for Truck Drivers
However, doing so is illegal, as the amount of sleep that truck drivers must have before they may perform their jobs is regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). The FMCSA, in its hours of service regulations (HOS) sets the maximum that drivers may work in a week and how much sleep each driver must get once this maximum has been reached.
In an attempt to cut back on the number of truck accidents caused by driver fatigue, the FMCSA implemented changes to the HOS rules in mid-2013. Under the changes to the rules, the FMCSA significantly lowered the amount that interstate truck drivers may work every week to 70 hours. Previously, drivers were able to work up to 82 hours. In addition, the HOS rules were changed to force drivers to rest for 34 consecutive hours once the 70-hour maximum has been reached. In doing so, the FMCSA believes that it would allow drivers to get sufficient rest before starting a new workweek.
Truck Driver Sleep and Performance Study
Like any major changes, the modification of the HOS rules has not come without controversy. Although it has been less than a year since the changes went into effect, the FMCSA believes that the changes will reduce driver fatigue. Recently, the agency released a study by the Washington State University Sleep and Performance Research Center. The study found that the FMCSA’s reasoning behind the rule changes was sound.
During the study, researchers compared two groups of truck drivers. Each group was allowed to rest for the periods prescribed by the former and new HOS rules. It was concluded that drivers that had two nighttime periods of rest before beginning their shifts (such as under the new rules) reported fewer distractions, less drowsiness and were better able to stay in their lanes than those who only had one nighttime period of rest (under the old rules).
Study Faces Criticism
This study has been criticized by many in the trucking industry. In a statement by the American Trucking Association, the study was criticized for being too narrow in scope, since it neglected to test the other effects of a 34-hour rest period, such as more trucks being on the road during high traffic periods. The association argues that by enacting the HOS changes, the FMCSA has actually increased the possibility of truck accidents.
It is too early to determine whether the FMCSA or trucking industry is correct in their assessment of the effectiveness of the new HOS rules. However, there is sufficient evidence that they will at least ensure that truck drivers have a better opportunity to get sufficient rest than they were before.
Since truck accidents are caused by many factors other than fatigue, such as drug or alcohol use, improper loading, or maintenance issues, the new rules are not likely to eliminate the problem of negligent truck drivers on the nation’s roads. If you or a loved one has been injured in a truck accident, an experienced attorney can advise you of your right to compensation for your injuries.