A renewed debate about trucker safety is rolling down America’s highways following a vote by the Senate Appropriations Committee that weakens the rest regulations of those who operate 18-wheelers.
The rules at risk call for truckers to stay out of the driver’s seat for 34 hours following any 60-hour, seven-day shift or 70-hour, eight-day shift. Safety advocates oppose the legislation – now headed to the full Senate for approval.
“With one amendment, we’re doing away with rules we worked years to develop,” Daphne Izer, founder of Parents Against Tired Truckers, told autoblog.
Izer started the lobbying organization in 1993, after her son, Jeff, died when a truck driver who had fallen asleep ran over his car. Four of Jeff’s friends also were killed in the crash. Her story is one of thousands.
According to government estimates, fatalities involving trucks that weigh 10,000 pounds or more have spiked 18 percent since 2009. The Department of Transportation reports trucker fatigue accounts for 13 percent of those crashes. Further, in 2012, the latest year for which statistics are available, a total of 3,921 drivers / passengers were killed and another 104,000 injured.
The numbers are rising and now include actor and comedian Tracy Morgan, who was hurt critically in a recent early-morning accident involving a trucker who hadn’t slept in 24 hours, according a report on CNN.
“My response to the Tracy Morgan truck crash is that it’s been 10 years since my family was obliterated, and we’re not any safer,” Ron Wood, who lost five family members in a horrific accident in 2004, told autoblog.
The accident involved a trucker who reportedly had been behind the wheel for 35 hours and struck Wood’s family’s oncoming SUV.
“This amendment can’t pass,” he said. “It pushes us backward in the safety community, and it’s upsetting that we’re losing people every day to these fatigued truck drivers.”
The trucking industry’s standpoint is the current regulations increase traffic congestion because more drivers need to be on the road to make up for those at rest. An editorial in The New York Times says the legislation will, at best, endanger lives.
“If anything, the rule is too weak,” reads the editorial, noting the regulations, when passed in 2013, were upheld by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. “For instance, it allows drivers to spend up to 11 consecutive hours behind the wheel with just one 30-minute rest break. A 2011 study that Penn State University conducted for the government shows that the risk of accidents is greatest during the 11th hour of driving. And the 34-hour break that truck drivers are entitled to after an arduous 60-hour or 70-hour workweek is far too short. Most Americans get two full days off after working an average of 34.5 hours.”
Consumers can take several precautions to protect themselves on the road when large trucks are present. Here are some tips. More can be found at Road Safe America.
- Be alert when you are near semis and other heavy-duty vehicles, as they behave differently than cars.
- Know truckers’ blind spots. If you can’t see their side-view mirrors, they can’t see you.
- Never cut in front of large trucks. They are like trains and require a lot of time to slow down and stop.
- When passing a truck, use extra caution, maintain your speed, observe its turn signals, and don’t pull in front of it until you see the entire vehicle in your rear-view mirror.
- If it’s raining, give trucks an addition five seconds of reaction time on the highway.
- Call law-enforcement officials in the event you witness unsafe driving.