Federal Agency Changes Trucking Regulations
The coronavirus pandemic has hit the trucking industry hard. In April, North American truckers saw shipments fall by around 23%. This was the lowest number in a decade and has resulted in trucking companies losing considerable sums of money.
Unfortunately, the Trump Administration has been fiddling with safety rules that were put into place to protect the public. These changes could potentially lead to more truck accidents and more serious injuries for innocent victims.
Exemptions Related to the COVID-19 Pandemic
Currently, federal hours of service requirements limit how much a trucker can drive to 11 hours in a 14-hour workday. Truckers also must take at least a half hour break after 8 straight hours of driving. This break can consist of a sleeper berth break.
In March, the Trump Administration suspended the hours of service requirements for those truckers who were moving emergency materials or personnel to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. So a trucker could drive for more than 11 hours, if necessary, to deliver certain supplies or personnel to construct shelters. However, the rules did mandate a break once the driver had completed the delivery. The Trump Administration has continued these exemptions until June 14.
More Changes to Safety Regulations
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is also set to put in place new rules regarding rest breaks. These rules, which will take effect later this year, could increase the risk that fatigued drivers will be behind the wheel.
The new rule will allow truck drivers to count periods where they are on duty but not driving to the requirement that they take a 30-minute break after 8 hours. So a trucker who is sitting in traffic might be able to count that time as a “break.” Drivers can also split up the required 10-hour off-duty period into two breaks.
Trucking companies have long opposed the hours of service regulations, arguing that they are very rigid. For example, a truck driver might get stuck in traffic but is considered “driving” for purposes of the rules. Some truckers have had the clock run out while waiting at loading docks.
The FMCSA estimates that these changes will save trucking companies about $274 million over the next decade. The agency also claims that the changes will not increase the amount of time that truckers are on the road.
However, we believe this last claim is questionable. The agency has adopted additional rules that precisely allow drivers to drive more. For example, one rule increases the on-duty period by two hours if severe weather and adverse conditions cause a delay. Short-haul drivers can also be on duty for 14 hours, not 12, and can travel for up to a maximum of 150 miles (up from 100). So these rules will actually increase the amount of time drivers are operating.
We Represent those Injured in Truck Accidents
We hope that the FMCSA is right and public safety will not be compromised. Nevertheless, our nation’s history has shown that fatigued driving is a serious problem.