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U.S. Feds Abandons Existing and Proposed Trucking Regulations

Recent action or rather, inaction by the federal government surrounding trucking regulations could continue to put the public at risk when sharing the highways with big rigs. Existing and proposed trucking regulations have been rolled back or abandoned in response to pressure and lobbying from the trucking industry. The original intent of these regulations were to protect drivers and their passengers from becoming victims of serious crashes involving large commercial vehicles. This would mean fewer accidents, injuries, fatalities and lawsuits because of increased oversight regarding trucker safety requirements.

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Rollback on Existing Rules

In July 2013, truck driver scheduling rules came into effect as a means of combating driver fatigue. These rules required that commercial truck drivers must:

  • Drive no more than 11 hours a day or 70 hours in a week
  • Be allowed to take a minimum of one 30-minute break within the first eight hours of a shift
  • Receive time off between 1 and 5 a.m. on consecutive nights that is included in the required 34-hour gap they must have before starting a new work week
  • Only declare a "restart" once a week, meaning they would have to wait 168 hours before declaring the start of a new work week

These rules were targeted at preventing truck drivers from being required to work 80 hours or more a week, which contributes to fatigue-related crashes. The trucking industry; however, felt these restrictions were unnecessary and were acted upon prematurely by the federal government. They argued that the data used to back the claims that these restrictions were needed was not enough to prove their necessity, thus additional research was needed.

Research provided by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) claimed otherwise that these rules could save lives. By restricting truck drivers' time on the road, it was estimated that 1,400 accidents and 560 injuries could be prevented each year. In actuality, FMCSA asserted that these stricter requirements would only affect about 15 percent of the commercial truck drivers on the road. The trucking industry continued to argue that the rules were put into force prematurely and would cause more accidents by putting more traffic on the roads during the daytime.

Meanwhile, a high-profile truck crash occurred around 1 a.m. on June 7, 2014, seriously injuring comedian Tracy Morgan and killing a passenger in his vehicle. The driver of the freight truck for Walmart was found to be traveling 65 miles per hour while in a 45-mile speed zone when the crash occurred. During the investigation, the driver claimed he had been awake for 24 hours when the crash occurred. According to the electronic driver log information on the truck, he had been driving for almost 9.5 hours when the accident occurred and had logged approximately a total of 13.5 hours that day. Since that time, Morgan's trucking accident attorney has settled his case with Walmart for an undisclosed amount.

Unfortunately, the government caved to the demands of the trucking industry. Included in the $1.8 trillion year-end government funding and tax bill passed by the U.S. Congress is the rescinding of the 2013 trucker scheduling rules. This was met with criticism from safety advocates for including these changes under the government's funding bill. For now, the FMCSA is planning to release the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) Final Rule that will help provide information law enforcement and attorneys handling trucking accidents.

Abandoning Proposed Legislation

The end of 2015 also saw the FMCSA abandoning proposed legislation because of complaints it would be redundant to existing requirements under Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. A proposal was withdrawn to require commercial vehicles to display a label to show proof that they are compliant with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) that were in place at the time of their manufacturing.

Another proposal dating back to 2011 was dropped by the Transportation Department's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). This was due to provisions against the proposal that were included in recently approved U.S. highway funding legislation. The proposal would have amended existing hazardous material regulations regarding the transportation of flammable liquid materials in unprotected product piping on tanker trucks. This piping, referred to as wetlines, pose a risk of spilling and igniting fuel during an accident.

Tank carriers successfully argued that the cost to install pumps to empty these lines would outweigh the benefits. Additionally, the welding of the pumps onto existing tank trailers could cause explosions to occur during the process. As a result, the proposal was dropped and further research by the PHMSA will continue.

What This Means to Drivers

Unfortunately, going into 2016, rules that were intended to protect drivers on the road against dangerous truck crashes are no longer effect. Fortunately, drivers will still have trucking accident attorneys ready to assist them in the event they are involved in a crash resulting in personal injury to them or their loved ones.

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