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Lawmakers consider suspending truck safety rules

Drowsiness and fatigue among commercial truck drivers has been a topic of growing concern in recent years as shipping companies attempt to squeeze more and more out of a limited number of drivers. New regulations limit work hours for truck drivers in an effort to prevent accidents, but federal lawmakers may be on the brink of undoing those efforts.

The proposed budget legislation now pending before Congress contains a provision that, if passed, would suspend the new hours-of-service rules that apply to drivers of large commercial trucks. Those rules, established in 2013, set limits on the number of hours that truck drivers may work in any given day or week, and imposes mandatory break periods to ensure adequate opportunities for rest.

Change could put more sleepy truckers on the road
Currently, under the rules passed last year, truck drivers are limited to working 14 hours per day, with no more than 11 of those hours spent on the road. Additionally, the regulations require a 34-hour rest period — which must include two consecutive overnights from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. — after working after working 70 hours in a week.

Supporters of the regulations say they prevent semi crashes by helping to ensure that truck drivers receive adequate opportunity for rest. Critics, however, say the rules force more trucks onto the road during peak travel times, thus increasing congestion and potentially raising rather than lowering the potential for traffic accidents.

If the new legislation passes, however, truck drivers could be permitted to work as much as 82 hours per week. Many lawmakers and traffic safety advocates have publicly opposed the change, saying it puts lives at risk unnecessarily.

Research shows drowsiness akin to drunkenness

Even among everyday commuters, exhaustion, overwork and sleep deprivation are a serious traffic safety problem. These hazards are amplified in situations involving semi trucks and other large commercial vehicles due to their tremendous size and weight, which increase their potential to cause catastrophic harm in the event of a crash.

Poorly rested drivers experience decreases in important driving skills like judgment, coordination and attentiveness, all of which make them more prone to accidents. An Australian study cited by the National Sleep Foundation shows that being awake for just 18 consecutive hours creates a level of driving impairment equivalent to that of a 0.05 blood alcohol content. At 24 hours without sleep, drivers are impaired at a level similar to those with a BAC of 0.10, which is well above the legal limit for drunk driving.

Thousands injured or killed by trucks each year

In a single year, from 2011 to 2012, the number of people killed in large truck accidents in the United States increased by nearly 4 percent to a total of nearly 4,000. Many of those additional deaths occurred in California, which has more trucking fatalities than almost any other state. According to 2012 data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, California was second only to Texas for the number of large trucks involved in fatal crashes — making up about 6 percent of the national total. Along with the thousands killed, approximately 104,000 people suffered non-fatal injuries in collisions with semis and other large trucks in 2012.

Often, when someone is hurt or killed in a truck crash, they or their families can recover financial compensation for the losses they incur as a result of the crash. Depending on the situation, these can include hospital expenses, lost income, pain and suffering and other damages. Talk to a personal injury lawyer to learn more if you or a family member has been involved in a truck accident.