The timing couldn’t have been worse for the trucking industry.
On June 5, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted 21-9 to study the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s 34-hour restart rule, as part of the Hours of Service Rule before it would approve the fiscal 2015 transportation spending bill.
Three days later, the driver of a Wal-Mart truck, who had reportedly not slept for more than 24 hours, crashed into several cars in New Jersey, killing one person and critically injuring three others — including renowned comedian Tracy Morgan.
Let the controversy begin.
FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro has continually claimed the 34-hour restart rule has been instrumental in enhancing safety on the highway. In fact, in a June 3 blog on the Department of Transportation’s website, Ferro wrote “suspending the current hours-of-service safety rules will expose families and drivers to greater risk every time they’re on the road.”
According to the FMCSA HOS rules, drivers are allowed to work a maximum of 14 hours per day, with only 11 of those hours behind the wheel of the big rig and a maximum of 70 hours per week. Along with that, drivers must take one 30-minute break within the first eight hours of their shift and must have a 34-hour restart — meaning they are not working during those hours. The restart must include two consecutive periods of 1 a.m. to 5 a.m.
In the crash involving Morgan, the driver is accused of being awake for more than 24 hours, but according to an NBC News report, David Tovar, Wal-Mart vice president of communications, said Wal-Mart believes their drivers was operating within the federal hours of service regulations. That simply means that the driver, while he may have been awake for more than 24 hours, was not driving the entire time.
NBC News also cited several statistics in its story that showed accidents involving big rigs in 2012. According to DOT figures, it stated there was an average of 868 crashes involving trucks per day, leading to an average of 11 fatalities and 200 injury accidents each day of the year.
According to Marissa Padilla, director of communications with FMCSA, “Driver fatigue is a leading factor in large truck crashes.” She cited a 2006 study that said 13 percent of commercial motor vehicle drivers were considered to have been fatigued at the time of a serious crash.
While the statistics showed a 4 percent rise in fatalities involving large trucks between 2011 and 2012, it did not point out who was at fault in the crashes. Other statistics have shown that serious accidents involving big rigs are often the fault of passenger vehicles.
Regardless, the accident involving a fatigued driver that caused one fatality and left three others injures is fuel to the fire for FMCSA. Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, meanwhile, has stated that regulations are so strict that a driver cannot stop or take a break because of deadlines, which has made the highways less safe.
Author: Larry Hurrle, IT Magazine Editor