How will trucker rest rule suspension affect roadway safety in UT?

Utah drivers may face a higher risk of truck crashes involving fatigue due to the suspension of a rule requiring weekly overnight rest periods for truckers.

At the end of 2014, federal legislation suspended one of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's hours-of-service regulations. The suspended rule limited the total weekly hours that truckers could work while mandating nighttime rest periods. The suspension is effective until September 2015, pending the results of a safety study. Unfortunately, even if this change proves temporary, it could leave Provo drivers facing a high risk of truck accidents involving driver error and fatigue.

Overview of rule suspension

The rule that was suspended established rest requirements for truckers during their 34-hour "restart periods" between workweeks. Truckers had to include two periods of rest spanning from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. in each restart period. This essentially limited drivers to working 70-hour weeks, according to Bloomberg. Now, truckers do not need to log any overnight rest. Due to this change, they are effectively permitted to work up to 82 hours per week.

Critics worry that this will allow more truckers to drive during irregular hours while skipping needed sleep. This may create a higher risk of drowsy driving accidents. Bloomberg notes that it's already not uncommon for truck drivers to reach their physical limits, given their demanding schedules. Increased sleep deprivation and exhaustion may directly affect a driver's attentiveness, response times and overall accident risk.

Pending research on rule

The Commercial Carrier Journal reports that the FMCSA is undertaking a study to evaluate the safety benefits of mandatory overnight rests. The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute will observe drivers for at least five months on behalf of the FMCSA. The study will use various forms of technology to track each driver's apparent fatigue as well as accidents and near-accidents.

Based on the study, a report should be ready by September 2015, when the rule suspension expires. This report will enable lawmakers to determine whether the rule should be implemented again. In the meantime, drivers across the nation may face a significant risk of fatigue-related truck accidents.

Outlook in Utah

Trucking accidents already have a significant safety impact in Utah, according to data from the state Department of Public Safety. The DPS reports the following figures for 2013:

  • A crash involving a heavy truck occurred in the state every 2.5 hours.
  • Altogether, over 3,000 heavy truck accidents were reported.
  • These accidents contributed to 10 percent of all recorded vehicle accident fatalities.

Drowsy driving was reported as a factor in 6 percent of crashes that occurred in Utah that same year. Still, this may underrepresent the real scope of the problem. Drowsy driving can be difficult to identify after an accident, since no definitive test can establish driver fatigue. A much higher number of accidents may involve some form of driver exhaustion.

The victims of fatigue-related truck accidents may have legal recourse. If a truck driver violates state laws or federal regulations, the driver may be found liable for any resulting accidents. Drivers who cause accidents after making reckless decisions, such as driving while sleep deprived, may also be found negligent. Accident victims should consider seeking advice from an attorney to better understand their rights and options.

Keywords: truck, accident, injury