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Trucker rest rule suspension puts all drivers at risk

tractor trailerWATCH: Attorney Dan Munley weighs in on the suspension of trucker rest laws and what it means for other drivers on the road.

Last month, we covered the breaking news that the federal government moved to suspend certain laws that had been put in place just a year earlier regarding rest requirements the maximum weekly hours of operation for truck drivers. The previous law required that the 34-hour interim between work weeks include at least two periods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. – this was intended to provide truckers with the opportunity to get more sleep before getting back at the wheel. Now, the break between work weeks need only include one 1 a.m. -5 a.m. period. Thus, truck drivers may begin a work week having gotten less sleep, and that work week may be as long as 80 hours.

Proponents of this change, including Senator Susan Collins, have claimed that the previous laws had “unforeseen” consequences requiring further study. Among these consequences is the fact that drivers who are required to be off the road during the aforementioned 1a.m.-5a.m. periods were then forced to operate during busier daylight hours, and that this created more opportunity for accidents.

As truck accident lawyer Dan Munley explains in this interview, our concern for public safety results not from what time of day these truckers are operating, but from whether or not they are driving while sleep-deprived.

While an accident can occur at any time of day, darkness is conducive to drowsiness, and drivers are more likely to be less alert after one night of sleep rather than two. Even if accidents are more frequent during daylight hours, it is illogical for drivers to be operating on less sleep, regardless of what time of day truckers are on the road.  It simply makes sense to require that drivers be better rested, and therefore better able to perform their jobs safely. Decreasing the minimum rest requirements only benefits trucking companies, while it puts truckers themselves and the general public in danger.

“The final arbiter of safety is physiology, not Congress,” said Barbara Phillips, a medical professor at the University of Kentucky in Lexington who sat on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Medical Review Board from 2006 to 2010.

“Fatigue and sleep deprivation are contributors to crashes in all drivers,” said Phillips. “Performance begins to decline after about four hours and is very severely impaired after 10 hours. Accidents happen because of impaired vigilance and delayed reaction time, so you don’t hit the brake as fast.”

What is it really like to be a truck driver? This is a fantastic article from Bloomberg’s  Jennifer Oldham, riding along with truck driver Tracy Livingston for six days as on her route from Michigan to Tennessee. Livingston shares her experience traveling 14 hours a day, with not-so-restful rest periods being spent in the cab of her truck.

Even under the 2013 laws, driver fatigue was still a major issue. The news, local and national, is full of stories involving truck drivers who fall asleep at the wheel. Drivers will sometimes falsify their work logs in order to appear to be compliant while remaining on the road longer than the law allows. Some drivers will even resort to extreme measures, taking drugs such as amphetamines to stay awake.

As a law firm, we see firsthand  how these kinds of accidents can wreck the lives of individuals and families. If you or a loved one have been involved in an accident with a large truck, contact Munley Law Personal Injury Attorneys. We specialize in truck accident cases.

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