Proposed Hours-of-Service Regulation Changes Decrease Trucking Industry Safety

On Aug. 14, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued a notice containing five key proposed changes for the Hours of Service (HOS) standards that regulate truck operations across the nation.  The stated goal of the proposed changes is to “enhance safety by giving America’s commercial drivers more flexibility while maintaining the safety limits on driving time,” but critics have argued that the proposals will do the opposite, decreasing road safety.

Safety Concerns Associated with the Proposal

In response to the FMCSA’s notice, the Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety (AHAS) released its own statement strongly opposing the changes: “[t]hese changes and any other proposals that would further degrade HOS rules will increase driver fatigue, and issue the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has repeatedly cited as a major contributor to truck crashes… These safety rollbacks, called for under the guise of ‘flexibility’, are nothing more than thinly veiled attempts to force drivers to work even more arduous schedules.”

Currently, truckers are already allowed to drive up to 77 hours in seven days, which is nearly twice as many hours as the typical full-time worker.  Because the proposed changes would allow truckers to extend their work weeks even further, driver fatigue is a major concern.

As stated by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, a professional society of scientists and doctors,  “there’s no guarantee a trucker can or will sleep during that three-hour stop [included in the proposed changes] and a number of them would be driving at the end of a long period of being awake.”   Dangerous truckers pose the greatest risk for those who share the road with them.  In addition, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 82% of the fatalities in large truck crashes in 2017 were people who were not occupants of the involved truck.  On top of that, the number of fatal truck accidents is increasing: 2017’s 4,657 fatal large truck crashes marked a 10% increase in just one year. In the state of Ohio, 121 of 2018’s 996 fatal crashes, or 12%, involved heavy trucks.  If the more flexible rules cause an influx of drowsy truckers on the road, pushed on by companies demanding even more from these overworked and underpaid drivers, deadly consequences will increase.

The Proposed HOS Changes

The five key changes introduced in the notice include the following:

  1. Increasing flexibility of the 30-minute break rule.  Truckers could use 30-minute breaks while they are on-duty but not driving, such as while they wait for a shipment to be processed at a warehouse.  Truckers could then complete entire shifts without having any off-duty breaks when they can rest and regenerate their ability to focus on safe driving.
  2. Modifying sleeper-berth requirements.  Instead of the currently-mandatory 10-hour consecutive break, drivers would only need to be provided seven consecutive hours off-duty per shift.  The last three required off-duty hours could be taken at a separate time.
  3. Giving drivers the ability to “pause” their shift.  Under proposed changes, truckers could take one off-duty break between 30 minutes and three hours long that would not be counted in their 14-hour driving limit.
  4. Allowing drivers to extend their shift during adverse conditions. In adverse conditions, such as hazardous weather or unusually heavy road congestion, drivers could extend the window they are allowed to drive by up to two hours. For long-haul commercial drivers, this would allow them an on-duty period of up to 16 hours in some of the most dangerous conditions that already take a toll on all drivers.
  5. Extending short-haul driver maximums. Short-haul drivers would be able to extend their on-duty period, which is currently capped at 12 hours, to a total of 14 hours. Additionally, their operation distance limit would increase from 100 to 150 miles.

What You Can Do

It will likely be several months before any proposed HOS changes go into effect.  In the meantime, the FMCSA will hold a second listening session regarding the proposal on Sep. 17. Potential impacts of the changes on trucker fatigue and overall road safety will need to be considered carefully before moving forward.  If you would like to be heard regarding your opinions or concerns, contact your elected congressmen/women today.

If you or a loved one were seriously injured in a crash involving a semi-tractor, contact the attorneys at Murray & Murray Co., L.P.A. in Ohio today for exemplary legal service.