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Coming soon to a road near you: drowsy truck drivers?

Congress has eliminated an important protection against truck driver fatigue.

When you are driving down the road, you may find the presence of large semi-trucks rather intimidating. After all, these behemoths outweigh your vehicle by many times. If you were involved in an accident with one, you would likely be seriously injured or even killed due to their massive size and weight. Unfortunately, truck accidents may occur more often in Connecticut and across the nation, due to a recent rollback of key safety regulations by Congress.

The safety regulations in question concern truck driver fatigue, one of the leading causes of truck accidents. In order to help further combat this problem, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) added new hours of service (HOS) regulations in 2013. These rules affect how long truck drivers may drive in a week and when they must take rest breaks.

These new rules cut drivers' workweeks by 12 hours to a maximum of 70 hours. In addition, the rules changed the rest break requirement to require drivers to rest 34 consecutive hours over two nighttime periods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. before they may start a new workweek. The reason for this change was that prior studies had shown that the body was most in need of rest during this period. By changing the rule, the FMCSA theorized that it would result in better-rested drivers (and fewer accidents as a result).

Congressional action

Unfortunately, this change was not in effect for very long. Trucking companies, which opposed the changes from the beginning, recently were able to persuade Congress to suspend certain provisions of the new HOS rules. Congress passed a suspension of the provisions within the $1.1 trillion spending bill that was signed into law in December 2014.

Under the HOS rules now in effect, truck drivers still must take a 34-hour rest break. However, the changes did away with the nighttime rest requirement. Now drivers may take (or be forced to take) their rest breaks at any time, even if the rest break occurs primarily during daytime hours. Unfortunately, this may mean that more drivers are unable to get quality rest, due to the body's natural preference for sleep during the night.

Although down, the nighttime rest period requirement may not be out. In the law, Congress permitted the FMCSA to bring back the requirement. However to do so, the FMCSA must first conduct a study proving that the requirement is effective at reducing fatigue-related truck accidents. If such a study occurs and is successful at proving this, the suspended rules could be back in effect as early as September 2015.

An attorney can help

The law is the latest example of how the trucking industry often puts its profits over the safety of its drivers and innocent motorists. If you are involved in a truck accident, negligence of the trucking company or driver may be the culprit. An experienced personal injury attorney can work with accident experts to pinpoint the cause and work to obtain compensation for your medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, and other expenses resulting from the accident.