How safe are the highways? Congress says they're safe enough, in rolling back Obama Administration hours-of-service regulations.
Last week Congress changed rules issued by the Obama administration with regard to regulations on how much rest truck drivers get.
The rollback of the hours-of-service restart has elicited different views.
Alex Kierstein, of autoblog, points out that the intent of the Obama administration's rules were to make sure that drivers wouldn't be required to get back on the road between 1 am and 5 am, which regulators determined could leave them dangerously drowsy. By not implementing the new rule, drivers may end their required minimum breaks during these hours, Kierstein wrote. And drivers can't use their 34-hour break twice in one calendar week, which was another proposed change to existing rules.
Kierstein says that the effect of the rollback of these rules is large since “missing just a little bit of sleep has a bigger impact on the risk of getting into a fatal car accident than you might think. AAA just put out a study on this very issue, and while AAA didn't study truck drivers specifically the broad implications are clear: getting less than five hours of sleep is comparable to driving drunk. It's a serious problem that certainly has relevance for commercial drivers drivers.”
However the American Trucking Association takes a different view.
“Thanks to hard work by Congressional leaders of both parties and in both chambers, we are one step closer to having an hours-of-service restart rule that makes sense and puts safety first,” said ATA president and CEO Chris Spear.
The provision will restore the restart rules to what they were before July 2013 when ”two unjustified restrictions were imposed on 3.5 million professional truck drivers,” the ATA said.
“The changes to the restart could have been devastating to my fleet and thousands of other trucking companies across the country,” said ATA chairman Kevin Burch, president of Jet Express Inc., Dayton, Ohio. “By including this language, Congress has done a tremendous service for highway safety, the trucking industry, its millions of professional drivers and Congress should be thanked.”
ATA said that the impact of these changes from July 2013 until they were suspended in 2014, “was an uptick in early daytime driving by trucks and an increase in crashes due to the resulting congestion.”
ATA also questions the sleep study. “These rules, put forward based on a very limited laboratory sleep study, could have had serious negative safety impacts,” Spear said. “The restart is an important tool for drivers, not to maximize driving time, but to have the flexibility to maximize off-duty time and time at home, and we are pleased that drivers will continue to have unrestricted access to it.”
Kierstein says that this change could “embolden the ATA to fight stricter rules in states that go beyond the federal requirements, as The Times points out. And lastly, the report indicates that trucking industry might seek higher weight limits and longer maximum trailer lengths, making trucking more profitable per load but potentially causing increased wear on infrastructure and further safety concerns.”