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Proposed regulatory changes may raise already high risk of truck crashes

In 2014, CNBC reported that truck accidents have increased to the point that nearly 11 fatal truck accidents occur every day in the U.S. According to the same source, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration data shows that large truck crashes kill about 4,000 people and cause 100,000 injuries yearly. Given these trends, many people in Cleveland might expect lawmakers to enact stricter trucking industry regulations. However, legislators are currently considering changes in the opposite direction.

According to USA Today, federal lawmakers are weighing changes to truck driver rest requirements and maximum double trailer lengths. Earlier this year, a temporary rule change regarding the required number of weekly overnight driver rest periods went into effect. Now, a federal proposal could formalize this rule change and also override state limits on maximum tractor-trailer lengths.

Driver rest requirements

For most of 2014, truck drivers were required to complete a 34-hour reset period between workweeks that included two consecutive overnight rests. These rests had to last from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. However, in late 2014, this rule was suspended. Now, truckers can take a 34-hour reset period with just one overnight rest.

Research suggests that this change could be dangerous because it could promote more fatigued driving. The Washington Post states that drowsy truckers may be less focused on driving and less able to assess their own fatigue. Additionally, the suspension of the rest rule essentially increases the total weekly driving hours that truckers can log from 70 to 82. With more tired truckers spending more time on the road, the risk of serious or catastrophic accidents may rise even further.

Tractor-trailer length limits

According to USA Today, the new proposal also seeks to increase the maximum permitted length of double-trailer trucks. If the proposal succeeds, it will supersede state laws and allow truck tractors to haul two 33-foot trailers. Here in Tennessee, this would represent a significant change over the current length limit for double trailers, which is 28.5 feet per trailer.

The use of longer double trailers would increase efficiency and reduce costs for shipping companies, but it could have detrimental effects on roadway safety. This is due to the following issues:

  • Double trailers and longer trailers can be unstable and more difficult to control.
  • Longer and heavier tractor-trailers generally require more time and distance to stop.
  • Infrastructure in many areas was not designed to accommodate such large commercial vehicles.

All of these factors could raise the risk of accidents even under ideal circumstances. In cases when truck drivers are inattentive, intoxicated or otherwise acting negligently, the results could be catastrophic.

Ongoing accident risk

This particular proposal may not succeed. USA Today notes that President Obama has stated that he intends to veto one version of this federal legislation if necessary. However, even if these potentially dangerous changes aren't made, statistics show that truck accidents will likely still affect thousands of motorists.

Depending on the circumstances, recourse may be available to the victims of these accidents. Anyone who has sustained injuries or lost a loved one in a large truck accident that may have involved negligence should consider seeking further advice from an attorney.

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