Safety advocates warn that U.S. drivers may be placed at a higher risk over a Department of Transportation plan to loosen rules over the hours a truck driver can work. The trucking industry has wanted the regulations eased for some time, according to The Associated Press.

The plan was rolled out despite new government statistics showing a 10% increase in fatal accidents involving 18-wheelers. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association (FMCSA) data from 2017 shows 4,657 fatal truck-related crashes, along with 344,000 non-fatal injury crashes. Safety advocates fear weakening trucking regulations will make highways more dangerous.

NTSB addresses “pervasive problem” of driver fatigue

Sixty truck drivers found to be fatigued or asleep were identified in the report, but the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) believes the number is higher. The agency says driver fatigue is often not reported on accident reports, and the agency has placed the issue on its “most wanted list” of highway safety improvements for 2020.

Current rules for truck drivers

Commercial truck drivers who violate current rules are forced to stay off the roadways for one day or more. Those who drive a semitruck weighing 10,000 pounds and more must follow these rules:

  • 11-hour limit: Hours allowed per day after having 10 hours off
  • 14-hour window: A truck driver’s 11 hours must fall within this period
  • Mandatory rest periods: Drivers can’t operate a semitruck more than eight consecutive hours without a 30-minute break
  • Maximum of 60/70 hours: The total number of hours allowed on the road in a seven- or eight-day period
  • 34-hour break: Drivers must be out of service for this period after they have reached their maximum hours of 60 or 70 hours

Passenger vehicle drivers are killed most often in truck accidents

The FMCSA report shows passenger vehicle drivers and their riders account for nearly 70% of people killed. Another 14% were on bicycles, motorcycles or were pedestrians and the rest, 17%, were truck drivers.

Some 18-wheelers weigh as much as 80,000 pounds when loaded, so speed combined with a vehicle weighing 25 times more than the average passenger vehicle creates a deadly force.

Safety advocates blame truck driver fatigue, inexperienced drivers, maintenance issues and other types of negligence for most accidents. If a driver survives, they potentially face permanent injuries, high medical bills and possible lost wages. An experienced personal injury attorney here in Alabama can help recover damages and help victims through a difficult time.