Truck accidents are far too common, with National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reporting that 330,000 trucks were in collisions causing 104,000 injuries and 3,921 fatalities in 2012 alone. Unfortunately, recent changes to federal laws and pending proposed changes to federal laws could only serve to make this problem worse- not better. Instead of trying to reduce risks of trucking accidents in Ohio and nationwide, it seems federal lawmakers are responding to industry lobbyists concerned more about the financial bottom line than about safety.
Federal Laws Exacerbating Truck Accident Risks
Richmond Times Dispatch wrote about ongoing federal efforts to change the laws so less protection can be provided to truck drivers. There are currently 22 states where state law imposes stricter requirements than federal regulations in terms of breaks and rest periods for truckers. These states go further in requiring meal breaks and rest breaks because it is safer for truckers to be rested and well-fed, rather than tired and hungry while behind the wheel.
The problem is, the federal government is trying to pass a national rule prohibiting states from taking steps to require more meal and rest breaks for truckers within the state borders. The federal rule would pre-empt state laws and ensure states went no further in guaranteeing break time for truckers than the on-duty requirements set by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
The language on pre-empting states and preventing extra break requirements was originally included in a federal transportation bill, but was taken out during negotiations. Now, the language has reportedly found its way back into an aviation bill which is otherwise unrelated to trucking laws. Lawmakers are essentially trying to quietly change the rules by including a change in a law which would have to pass in order to accomplish other legislative goals.
If the lawmakers are successful, this will not be the first time they have used an unrelated bill in an effort to undermine regulations which are aimed at protecting truckers and reducing the risk of truck accidents. The Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, which was passed in 2015 in order to keep the government funded and running, included provisions which suspended a rule related to trucker rest breaks as well.
That Act contained language dealing with a 34-hour rest break requirement. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration had passed a rule requiring a 34-hour break, which included two periods between the hours of 1:00 AM and 5:00 AM, after a trucker had driven for 60 hours over seven days or driven for 70 hours over eight days. Truckers objected to the 1:00 AM to 5:00 AM requirement, arguing it would force them to drive during busier times. Federal lawmakers suspended the requirement, even though it had been passed because safety advocates believe it is necessary to prevent drowsy driving truck accidents.