Attempt to Prevent Injuries and Deaths Caused by Fatigued Drivers Stopped
Unfortunately, last week the United States Senate voted to suspend a new Department of Transportation safety regulation that requires commercial truck drivers to take at least 34 hours off of work after working 60 hours over seven consecutive days, or 70 in eight days. The rule was designed and implemented to stem the tide against accidents, deaths and injuries caused by fatigued truck drivers. It is estimated that 13 percent of truck drivers involved in crashes were fatigued at the time. This is occurring while the number of crashes involving commercial trucks is steadily rising, including in Oregon.
Fatigue is Known, Preventable Factor in Truck Crashes
Background information about the need for truck drivers to take time off to “recharge” and be safer drivers is available from the TruckSafety.org. They have done a great job of outlining the fact and fiction about the need for the “34 hour” rule which was just suspended for no good reason. A link to their work is here.
Studies have shown that driving while tired is as dangers as driving drunk, as noted in the report here. The results of a large scale study done at the University of Pennsylvania show that fatigued truck drivers present a major risk on public roadways, suffering from the same impairment when tires as other drivers. A link to a summary of the study is here. As concluded by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration here, the easiest and most effective method of preventing fatigued driving is to get proper sleep. A pretty simple solution.
34 Hour Rule Was Created to Help Prevent Increasing Number of Deaths And Injuries
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation there has been an 18 percent increase in large truck crash fatalities since 2009. In one year alone, there were over 317,00 crashes – causing an average of 75 deaths per week, or 11 per day. Since fatigued driving is a known leading cause of commercial truck crashes it made sense to impose more strict rules on the hours that truck drivers can drive during a certain period. The U.S. Department of Transportation explained the reasons for implementing the “34 hour” rule here – they wanted to prevent injuries and fatalities from commercial truck crashes.
We carefully considered the public safety and health risks of long work hours, and solicited input from everyone who has a stake in this important issue, including victims’ advocates, truck drivers and companies. The result is a balanced Hours-of-Service rule with analysis showing that the changes save 19 lives and prevent approximately 1,400 crashes and 560 injuries each year. It also shows that the updated rule actually impacts less than 15 percent of the truck driving population –those drivers working the most extreme schedules. – U.S. DOT
In Oregon, the number of crashes involving commercial vehicles has steadily increased from 934 crashes in 2009 to 1,309 in 2013. During that five year period 187 people were killed in Oregon crashes involving commercial trucks. Information from the Oregon Department of Transportation is available here and here.
Even the Teamsters union opposes any change to the current 34 hour rule, noting its safety benefits for the public and professional truck drivers, as explained here. Teamsters president, James P. Hoffa, sent this open letter to Congress asking its members to support the 34 hour rule.
“Not all motor carries run their drivers to the limit of their Hours of Service, but it does happen.” “Drivers feel pressure from their employers to drive more than 60-70 hours a week with insufficient rest. Without a strong voice in the workplace like the Teamsters Union, these drivers are left with no recourse and the resulting fatigue leads to accidents.” – Teamsters President James P. Hoffa
Politics + Big Business = Disregard For Safety Regulation
In voting to suspend the 34 hour rule, the U.S. Senate chose to ignore the U.S. Department of Transportation’s studies and analysis that concluded that the 34 hour rule will save lives and reduce injuries. At the same time, the regulation would have little effect on the industry as a whole, only on drivers forced to drive extreme hours.
You may ask why the Senate voted so. The answer is simple – partisanship and money. Its an election year and the trucking industry spends a lot of money lobbying and on candidates who do what they want them to do. Here is a link to a New York Times opinion piece describing how the trucking industry’s lobbying efforts stymie safety regulations.
Politicians often face financial pressure to withhold support for common sense safety measures. Unfortunately, Oregon’s own Representative Peter DeFazio isn’t immune to the temptation of putting money ahead of public safety, as outlined here. If this issue bothers you there is a solution. Contact your elected officials and let them know how you feel about the importance of “hours of service” safety rules.