Will new HOS regulations succeed in protecting more drivers?

Drivers in Fairfield County, Connecticut, may face many risks on the road, from weather conditions to other drivers. Accidents with large commercial vehicles are one danger that many drivers may worry about, since the consequences can be so devastating for the occupants of the smaller vehicle. New changes in the regulations governing hours-of-service for truckers have given many drivers hope for safer roads. These changes have a potential to make a significant difference, but it is also important for drivers to understand their limits.

Federal regulations limit trucker hours

Truckers typically need to work long and odd hours to complete each job. The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration explained in a July press release that truckers often experience chronic health conditions - including fatigue - and a heightened accident risk because of their demanding schedules. In light of these undesirable outcomes, the FMCSA has made changes to the hours-of-service regulations:

  • The maximum hourly limit for an average workweek is now 70 hours. This represents a 12-hour drop or a decrease of roughly 15 percent.
  • 30-minute rest breaks are now mandatory after the first 8 hours of work.
  • Drivers who reach the 70-hour limit in under a week can resume work after a 34-hour rest period.
  • That rest period must include two periods from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m.

These changes have drawn some criticism from the trucking industry, but advocates say that fatigue is a common factor in trucking accidents and that forcing drivers to rest more will save lives.

Results remain to be seen

Even though the new regulations will only affect about 15 percent of truck drivers, according to the FMCSA, the effects are expected to be noticeable. The FMCSA estimates that lowering hours-of-service will prevent 1,400 crashes, 560 injuries and 19 deaths every year. The organization also estimates that the monetary savings from fewer crashes will be $280 million.

Some people may be concerned about the possibility of truckers and employers falsifying records to get around the new requirements. However, NPR reports that more trucks are being equipped with devices that directly monitor the engine and can compile an accurate log, making it easier to ensure compliance.

Of course, rest time isn't the only factor that should be addressed to prevent trucking accidents. The British Medical Journal describes an Australian study of over 1,000 truckers, which found that truckers who consumed caffeine were less likely to have an accident - even compared to truckers who had slept longer and were driving a shorter route. In other words, time spent resting wasn't the best predictor of crashes; drivers who had more experience and a little help staying alert had a safer record.

Requiring truckers to work fewer hours and rest more is still a smart step toward protecting other motorists as well as truck drivers themselves. However, additional changes will likely still be needed to bring down the number of trucking accidents.

Anyone who has been injured in a truck accident should speak with a lawyer immediately to determine how best to approach his or her case.