The death last August of a Maryland university professor on an Ohio expressway has raised the question of commercial truck drivers’ ability to function well under the currently legal federally regulated hours of service. It was the untimely death of Stevenson University professor Susan Slattery and numerous other traffic accidents involving commercial truck and passenger vehicles — such as minivan, sedans, SUVs and motorcycles — that has people like Joan Claybrook, former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), looking long and hard at the current rules.
As a Baltimore trucking accident lawyer and personal injury attorney, I have heard dozens of heartrending stories involving families who have lost loved ones in traffic wrecks due to another person’s negligence. According to a news report, the federal regulations governing the number of hours a truck driver may be one the road could also be to blame for thousands of deaths each year.
To some, semi tractor-trailers are simply rolling time bombs that claim nearly a dozen lives every day across the United States. And it’s most likely true, according to some, that of the dozens of 18-wheelers a driver meets on the road every hour may be operated by a trucker who has been driving for more than the 12 hours. In fact, there is no way for other motorists to know whether or not a commercial driver has been on the road for only five or as much as 15 hours.
Claybrook herself has reportedly been an advocate for reducing the hours truckers can drive for a while now. Known as “Hours of Service,” federal regulations state that truckers can drive no longer than 11 hours with 10 hours off for rest. But these rules could change as early as 2011, now that there have been some successful lawsuits carried out by safety groups.
As a result, the federal government is now carefully reviewing the question of how many hours a trucker could more safely drive in any given shift. Given the possibility of proposed changes to the current rules governing hours of service, a change in the law could be implemented no later than next summer.
Some would say that it couldn’t come soon enough, what with driver fatigue being blamed for as much as 40 percent of fatal trucking-related accidents; claiming about 5000 lives across the nation every year.
According to Claybrook, who also serves as board chairman for the Truck Safety Coalition, the blame doesn’t lie with the drivers themselves, but with the pay-by-mile wage structure that she claims encourages drivers to go faster and drive longer hours.
Calling 18-wheelers rolling “sweat shops,” Claybrook says that truckers don’t have the control that they should. Without being able to get paid what they deserve, over-the-road truck drivers end up working extra long hours and ultimately exhausting themselves to the point of causing a traffic accident. Essentially, Claybrook says that we motorists then become the victims of these over-worked individuals.
On the flipside, the American Trucking Association (ATA) disagrees with Claybrook, saying that current federal truck driving regulations work well and contributed to a 20-percent reduction in fatal truck crashes last year. The ATA also suggests that reducing the hours of service will end up costing Americans more for goods and materials. That may be so, but the families of those 5,000 or so people killed each year as a result of driver fatigue might have something to say about which costs is more acceptable.
Tired trucker tears Baltimore County family apart, ABC2News.com, November 23, 2010