As discussed in an editorial in the New York Times, the Senate Appropriations Committee has proposed suspending a new Department of Transportation regulation that requires truck drivers to rest for at least 34 hours after working 60 hours over seven days or 70 hours over eight days.
The rule has been in effect since July of 2013 and is designed to reduce the number of drowsy-driving accidents by truckers.
Instances of Drowsy Driving
In one recent high-profile case, an allegedly drowsy Wal-Mart truck driver crashed into a limo carrying actor Tracy Morgan (Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock), seriously injuring him and killing comedian James McNair.
According to a criminal complaint, the truck driver hadn’t slept for more than 24 hours before the accident.
Wal-Mart issued a statement that it believed the driver was in compliance with federal safety regulations.
According to a 2005 poll by the National Sleep Foundation, 60% of adult driver admitted to having driven while feeling drowsy. More than a third (37%) have actually fallen asleep at the wheel. 13% say that they doze off while driving at least once a month.
Falling asleep at the wheel is bad enough when you’re driving a 3,000 pound Prius. It’s much worse when you‘re driving a 12,000 pound 18-wheeler loaded with 80,000 pounds of cargo.
Truck and Car Collision
Being hit by a semi traveling at highway speed can make a passenger vehicle disintegrate, as show in this disturbing video.
Senator Susan Collins (R, Maine), who proposed suspending the safety rule for one year, said that regulators failed to take into consideration that the rule would cause more trucks to be on the roads during peak traffic hours.
The suspension would give the US Department of Transportation time and funding to study whether having more trucks on the road during peak hours actually increases the risk of accidents.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, fatal truck accidents increased from 2009 to 2012 (the last year for which statistics are available). In 2012, truck crashes caused 3,912 deaths.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration had projected that the rules change would prevent 1,400 truck crashes and 500 injuries per year and save 19 lives.
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