Will truck accidents increase under suspension of overnight rest rule?

Recent legislation suspending the overnight rest requirement for truck drivers’ weekly “restart periods” could lead to more fatigue-related accidents.

Fatigue is a common problem for truck drivers, who often face unusual hours, long workweeks and pressure to meet deadlines. Unfortunately, the consequences can be deadly, as a recent Illinois accident illustrated. According to The Daily Herald, a truck driver struck two stopped vehicles, injuring one person and taking another person's life. Driver fatigue or impairment was cited as a factor in the crash. The trucker reportedly had only slept 3.5 hours during his 37.5-hour shift.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's hours-of-service regulations aim to prevent accidents such as this. The regulations establish limits on the amount of time that a trucker can drive during a shift and a workweek. The rules also require truckers to complete regular rest periods. Unfortunately, the suspension of one key rule could have detrimental effects on roadway safety.

Rest requirement changed

The Marshfield News-Herald reports that the fiscal funding bill signed in late 2014 changed the requirements for weekly "restart periods." The FMCSA requires truckers to take a 34-hour rest period between each workweek. The funding bill made the following direct and effective changes to the existing FMCSA rules:

  • The bill suspended the mandatory overnight rest periods. Previously, the restart period had to include two rest periods stretching from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. Now, truckers simply need to log 34 hours of rest.
  • This suspension effectively increased the amount of hours that truckers can drive each week to 82 hours. Before, the restart requirements prevented drivers from exceeding a 70-hour week.
  • The bill established a nine-month suspension period to permit research into benefits and drawbacks of the overnight rest requirement. The FMCSA must complete a study by the end of September 2015 and present the findings to Congress.

The suspension of the overnight rest requirement may only prove temporary. However, it may leave innocent people exposed to more truck accidents involving driver fatigue. Past research from the FMCSA indicates that fatigue plays a role in 13 percent of truck accidents. This figure may under-represent the issue, since fatigue can be difficult to identify or establish as a factor in accidents.

Serious toll of truck accidents

Fatigued truck drivers may take a deadlier toll than other drivers, due to the simple nature of truck accidents. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, large trucks can weigh up to 30 times what other vehicles do. This increases the risk that people in other vehicles will experience devastating injuries. Large trucks are also prone to unusual issues, such as tipping over, riding over other vehicles or suffering mechanical failures.

National data reveals the steep toll that these accidents take. In 2012, just 4 percent of all registered vehicles were large trucks. However, large trucks were involved in 10 percent of all fatal motor vehicle accidents that occurred the same year. Trucks also played a role in 23 percent of multi-car accidents in which passenger vehicle occupants died.

Sadly, truck accidents involving fatigue and other preventable factors may harm many people this year. Anyone who has been hurt in such an accident in Illinois should consider consulting with an attorney. An attorney may be able to offer advice on available legal remedies, based on the circumstances of the accident.

Keywords: truck, accident, injury