A recent report throws cold water on claims that additional restrictions on commercial vehicle drivers’ hours would benefit safety.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General says it didn’t find a net benefit from two suspended provisions of commercial drivers’ hours of service rules. The rules required that commercial drivers include at least two nighttime periods (1 a.m. to 5 a.m.) in restart breaks and limited use of the restart provision to once every seven days.
Congress suspended those two rules because of concerns, including that this would increase traffic volume during daytime hours.
New hours-of-service rules took effect on July 1, 2013. Drivers:
- may drive 11 hours in a 14-hour window after coming on duty following 10 consecutive hours off duty
- may not drive after 60 hours in seven days or 70 hours in eight days, and
- may restart a seven or eight consecutive day period after taking 34 or more consecutive hours off duty.
Those provisions are still in place.
When the rules were enacted, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) estimated the new regulations would save 19 lives and prevent about 560 injuries and 1,400 crashes each year.
Various transportation and business groups opposed the rules, saying their one-size-fits-all approach wouldn’t benefit safety.
Despite these new findings, fatigue among commercial drivers continues to claim lives and cause injuries on U.S. roads.
One recent example that gained a lot of media coverage: The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said driver fatigue was the probable cause of the June 2014 crash in New Jersey that claimed the life of comedian James “Jimmy Mack” McNair and seriously injured actor Tracy Morgan.
The NTSB says the driver’s fatigue caused him to brake late to avoid traffic that had slowed down in an active work zone. The Wal-Mart tractor-trailer hit a limo that contained five passengers. The Wal-Mart driver had been awake over 24 hours.
The NTSB has repeated a recommendation it made to the FMCSA to require all carriers to have fatigue management programs for their drivers.
Morgan and two others filed a lawsuit against Wal-Mart, alleging it was negligent in the crash. Wal-Mart, Morgan and the two others settled the lawsuit. The terms and conditions remain confidential.
The National Safety Council says 1,550 people die each year in the U.S. in drowsy driving crashes. That figure includes all types of driving, not just commercial.
The NSC says the drivers at highest risk are:
- third shift workers
- people who drive a substantial number of miles each day
- those with unrecognized sleep disorders, and
- those prescribed medication with sedatives.