Rules Mandating Rest for Long-Haul Truckers Could Be Eliminated with New Congressional Bill
Both houses of Congress are currently considering different versions of a transportation spending bill that would alter the permissible working hours for long-haul truckers. The responses from safety advocates has been negative, and the change would run counter to recommendations made by the National Transportation Safety Board.
The rule currently in jeopardy is a portion of what is known as the 34-hour restart rule. While a previous version simply required drivers to take a 34-hour break in order to restart their work week, a revised version was enacted in 2013 that required that 34-hour break to include two periods between 1:00 am and 5:00 am, further ensuring that truckers would be well-rested before restarting work and less likely to be involved in a serious truck accident.
The rule requiring that the 34-hour reset include two periods between 1:00 am and 5:00 am each week was put in place in 2013, but suspended in 2014 after Congress requested that the Department of Transportation conduct a study into whether or not the changed rule actually resulted in an improvement in safety. The results of the study are not yet available to lawmakers but have been turned over for final review. The bill approved by the House appropriations committee would eliminate the overnight restriction without waiting to hear the results of the study, possibly eliminating a rule that could save hundreds of lives each year by preventing excessive fatigue on behalf of drivers.
Earlier this year Christopher Hart, the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, announced that one of the body’s most-wanted improvements to roadway safety was a reduction in commercial driver fatigue. “Most commercial transportation is 24/7, but humans are not.” In describing the problem of fatigued drivers, Hart cited the example of the tragic accident involving comedian Tracy Morgan’s tour bus, where the driver of the truck that hit the bus was found to be fatigued. “Amazingly, the driver was in compliance with the applicable rest and duty time rules, yet he had been awake for 28 straight hours before the crash.”
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, a member of the Senate’s Commerce Committee which oversees commercial trucking, has come out against the elimination of the overnight reset requirement. Sen. Booker stated, “[p]ushing truckers to the point of exhaustion puts them and others on the road at risk. It is our job as lawmakers to ensure appropriate guidelines are in place to protect these drivers and the individuals and families traveling on our nation’s highways.”
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