Federal Agency Proposes New Driving Rules to Combat Trucker Fatigue

In a move designed to reduce fatalities in tractor trailer crashes related to driver fatigue, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has proposed reducing the amount of hours that interstate truckers can spend behind the wheel. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is the agency in charge of regulating the trucking industry in the U.S. The agency's truck driver safety proposals include reducing the amount of allowable driving time during 14-hour shifts from 11 hours to 10 hours. Additionally, truckers will need to take a mandatory one-hour break during marathon shifts in which drivers load and/or unload their cargo. Finally, the FMCSA proposed more time off-duty for drivers between seven-day stretches. The FMCSA previously approved a rule set to take effect in 2012 requiring drivers that violate driving time limits to have an electronic device instead of a traditional time log book. Truckers can break the rules and lie about the amount of hours they log behind the wheel, occasionally putting themselves and other motorists in danger. 
In 2006, a truck driver slammed into a passenger vehicle stopped behind a school bus in Lake Butler, Florida. The accident killed seven children, the youngest of which was 20 months old. In the investigation that followed, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that the trucker responsible for the fatal crash had been awake for 34 hours straight, aside from a brief nap. Another instance where truck driver fatigue led to deadly consequences occurred in February of this year. A trucker in Leon County, Florida slammed head-on into a passenger vehicle, killing an elementary school bookkeeper. Authorities said the truck driver had been behind the wheel for over 12 hours with more than 45 minutes left until he reached his destination. The trucker responsive for the deadly crash is currently in Leon County Jail.  
According to trucking organizations, strict truck driver safety regulation has led to a reduction in fatal tractor trailer crashes. In 2009, fatal truck crashes went down 20 percent from 2008, and total miles driven by truckers during the same period fell by seven percent. The FMCSA says more truck driver safety regulation is still necessary. With a down economy, trucking companies are trying to keep costs down by hiring fewer drivers, which pushes truckers to maximize their time. Operating on such tight schedules can leave drivers with no choice but to press on even when they are exhausted.