Trucker rest rule suspension could promote more drowsy driving crashes

A rule requiring truckers to rest at least two consecutive nights every 70 hours has been suspended; this could result in more fatigue-related accidents.

Large truck accidents are a risk that many motorists in Memphis face on a daily basis. In 2013 alone, 1,625 truck crashes occurred in Shelby County, according to the Tennessee Department of Safety & Homeland Security. These accidents may occur for various reasons, from driver inattention to equipment malfunctions. However, research suggests that truck driver fatigue is one common factor.

According to The New York Times, the Department of Transportation estimates that 13 percent of large truck crashes involve fatigue. However, since drowsiness is challenging to identify and prove in an accident, the true rate of these accidents could be even higher. Unfortunately, Tennessee motorists may currently face a heightened risk of these needless accidents due to a recent regulatory change.

Rest requirements rolled back

National Public Radio reports that in 2013, a regulation requiring truckers to log two consecutive overnight rests every 70 hours went into effect. The regulation, which required truckers to rest from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m., aimed to reduce fatigue and associated accidents. This rule also effectively limited truckers to working 70 hours per week, further reducing the risk of drowsy driving.

Despite these benefits, critics of the rule contended that it had adverse economic and safety effects. The rule reduced profits and forced truckers to drive during peak traffic hours, potentially raising the risk of multi vehicle accidents. Given these concerns, in late 2014, the rule was suspended. Now, truckers can work up to 82 hours per week, and they only need to log one overnight rest between workweeks.

The suspension is effective until October, and a study into the rule's efficacy at preventing crashes is underway. Once this research is complete, the rule could be instituted again. Unfortunately, even a temporary suspension may leave motorists in danger, since drivers who are working more while sleeping irregular hours may be likelier to cause accidents.

Serious potential consequences

Although the new study will shed light on the benefits of the two-night rest rule, existing research suggests that one weekly overnight rest may be inadequate. Investigators have found that truckers who start the week with just one of these rest periods are more likely to drift from their lanes or lose focus on driving.

Even when truckers don't fall asleep at the wheel, temporary lapses in attention may have deadly effects. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety states that trucks require more stopping distance than other vehicles. This makes fast driver reaction times essential. Additionally, since trucks outweigh passenger cars by up to 30 times, they are more likely to cause catastrophic accidents The following national statistics from 2013 underscore this issue:

  • Trucks represented just 4 percent of vehicles and drove just 9 percent of all miles traveled.
  • Despite this, accidents that involved large trucks accounted for 11 percent of all fatal motor vehicle accidents reported that year.
  • Large truck accidents also represented 23 percent of accidents in which passenger vehicle occupants were killed.

The same year, in 97 percent of fatal two-vehicle accidents that involved large trucks, passenger vehicle occupants suffered the deadly injuries. Altogether, large truck accidents claimed 3,602 lives. Tragically, the risk of these outcomes may only increase when truckers aren't alert due to fatigue.

Holding negligent drivers accountable

Unfortunately, if past statistics are any indicator, large truck accidents may harm many people in Memphis this year. When these accidents arise due to unnecessary factors, including driver fatigue, victims may have recourse. Anyone who has been harmed in a truck accident that may have involved negligence should consider discussing the available legal options with an attorney.

Keywords: truck, accident, injury