New truck driver fatigue rules upheld amidst industry group challenges

After a 14-year convoluted legal process of proposed regulations, public comments, law changes, and court challenges, stricter rules aimed at preventing truck accidents caused by driver fatigue have finally been ratified. The new laws went into effect in July, but on August 8, a three-judge federal appeals court panel upheld the majority of the law's provisions. The new statutory scheme was challenged by the American Trucking Association, Inc. (ATA), an industry group that argued the more restrictive regulations would do little to increase safety while exponentially increasing costs for trucking companies.

The history

Beginning in 1999, the trucking industry had successfully lobbied for less restrictive regulations including a longer trucking day, much to the disappointment of safety watchdog groups who consistently brought (or threatened) legal action whenever allowed drive times increased. Because of the legal wrangling, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and Department of Transportation (DOT) have either rolled back or delayed several planned revisions to federal hours-of-service (HOS) regulations.

The most recent driver fatigue regulations were presented in 2011 after a DOT-sponsored study indicated that changes to them would yield net benefits of more than $150 million to the trucking industry (even after the hefty $470 million cost of implementing them) and the country as a whole through healthier drivers, lower truck accident rates and fewer highway fatalities. Long-haul trucking is actually one of the most hazardous jobs in the country, with truckers having an average life span of only 61 years (according to data provided by the Centers for Disease Control), compared to average life expectancy of 77.

Going forward

The new regulations not only limit the driving day to only 11 hours, they also require each driver to take at least one uninterrupted, 34-hour break once a week that covers two consecutive nights. These new provisions encourage drivers to be on the road during the day to take advantage of our internal biological clock that gives our bodies extra focus and performance abilities during the daylight hours.

The DOT has estimated that about 13 percent of the thousands of annual trucking accidents are directly linked to fatigue, so these new regulations aren't a panacea to all that is wrong on the nation's highways. They are, however, still likely to save lives, even if they do increase freight costs in the short-term.

Have you or a loved one been involved in an accident with a commercial big rig or semi-truck? Do you have questions about your legal rights to recover compensation to have medical bills or property damage expenses paid? For more information about your legal rights and options you may have to hold a negligent truck driver accountable, contact an experienced trucking accident attorney in your area.