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Truck driver fatigue: Will proposed bill make things better?

Having fatigued truckers on the road is an obvious danger, which is one reason why there are so many rules and regulations regarding how long truck drivers can stay behind the wheel before taking a break.

While the purpose of these rules is to make our roadways safer, some believe the current regulations -- otherwise known as the Hours-of-Service (HOS) regulations -- are far too strict, and do nothing for highway safety. One lawmaker has even introduced legislation (House Resolution 5417) that would, is passed, require changes to the current HOS regs.

But will this proposed law make the roads safer, or simply make things worse?

Current law vs. proposed law

Current HOS regulations impose a 14-hour limit on truck drivers. Essentially, this rule states that truck drivers cannot operate commercial vehicles past the 14th hour after they started working, with an additional limit of 11 hours of actual driving time within that 14-hour time frame. So once drivers start their shifts, they can only work for the next 14 hours, regardless of whether they are driving, sitting in a traffic jam or not moving due to inclement weather.

According to HR 5417, which is also known as the REST Act, highway safety has not improved under the current HOS regulations. In fact, the the number of crashes and fatalities involving large trucks has actually increased since the introduction of the current HOS rule. In addition, the legislation argues that this "rigid" 14-hour limit can, at times, compel professional drivers to be on the road even though they are:

  • Driving while tired or fatigued,
  • Driving during rush hour traffic or other periods of highway congestion
  • Driving during adverse weather conditions
  • Driving when they are simply not feeling well

After all, if they don't work through these less-than-ideal conditions, they may not make their delivery within the 14-hour window.

The REST Act, however, believes that greater flexibility in the HOS rules would allow drivers to rest when they feel appropriate, and it would allow them to avoid some of the problems referenced above, including weather and traffic congestion. Specifically, this legislation seeks to allow truck drivers to take a single rest break for up to three hours during their shift, effectively pausing their 14-hour time limit. Keep in mind, the 14-hour time limit would still apply, but the three-hour break would not be counted toward this limit.

Regardless of whether the REST Act passes or not, one thing remains true: truck driver hours must be limited in some way. Without these rules, some drivers may stay on the road far longer than is safe. Hopefully lawmakers will be able to find an effective -- and safe -- solution.

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