On June 1, 2020, the Federal Motor Safety Administration revised their regulations for truck drivers when it comes to their hours of service. There is now a 60/70 rule which means that truckers cannot drive for more than 60 hours in seven consecutive days or 70 hours in eight consecutive days. Once they hit that limit, they need to rest for 34 or more consecutive hours, but also take a mandatory 30-minute break once they reach their first eight hours driving. There is also an 11-hour per day driving limit.
While this all may sound safe (if a bit convoluted) to an outsider, one truck driver is fighting for an exemption to these regulations. Ronnie Brown III believes that the rest period often disrupts his natural sleep cycle, and he does not get enough quality rest. He also believes that he should be able to drive for longer periods of time when he does feel rested enough. He further claims that the hours restrict his ability to make money. Finally, Brown argues in his application that the hours-of-service rules are a “mechanism by the government to control my movements which I view as a violation of my constitutional right to free movement and my right as a human being to make my own choices in life as to my work habits.”
Brown is not asking that the regulations be changed for everyone. He says that he considers himself to be responsible for his actions and knows when he just needs sleep.
In defense of exempting truck drivers from hours-of-service regulations
Since truck drivers do not always work a normal, daytime eight-hour day like most people, they need to adjust their sleeping pattern to fit their unique schedule. It may not seem like a big deal, but drivers do not always work the same exact schedule, which makes it next to impossible for their bodies to get acclimated to their altered sleep schedule. Everyone’s body is different.
So Brown is right when he says the hours-of-service regulations can very easily disrupt a driver’s natural sleep cycle, which can lead to driver fatigue. Their regulations call for very specific on and off hours with breaks in between, but the rules are not advanced enough to speak to optimal sleeping hours. Truck drivers could be getting some sleep with the regulations now, but they may not be getting quality sleep.
There is also an argument to be made that lifting restrictions decreased truck accidents at the height of the pandemic in 2020. According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the number of fatal collisions increased between 2019 and 2020, but decreased during 2020. Given that traffic fatalities overall increased during this time, one could argue that removing the HOS regulations perhaps played a role in the decreasing numbers of wrecks.
Why exempting truck drivers from hours-of-service regulations is a bad idea
Fighting for sleep is one thing, but passing an exemption that allows truck drivers to work longer hours again is questionable. While it is admirable that Brown knows his limits and when to take a break from his shift, not every driver does. Sometimes drivers are fatigued without even realizing it and push themselves beyond what they realize they are capable of.
Granting an exemption for one driver means there could be hundreds or thousands more fighting for the same thing down the pipeline, and that could cause fatigue-related accidents to be back on the rise once more.
Is there another option to help drivers avoid fatigue?
Rather than granting exemptions to the rules, it is arguably better for federal regulators to refine the current rules so drivers get the sleep they need, and which will protect them against less scrupulous trucking companies that would push them past their limits.
Another step the government can take is increasing parking spaces and rest stops for truck drivers. The State of California Department of Transportation conducted a study which found that fatigue-related accidents were far less likely in an area where there was a rest stop within 30 miles. This means that drivers were often comfortable enough to pull over and take a nap or sleep for the night at rest stops, then hit the road again once they were refreshed. Being able to get sleep while on the road for long periods of time directly affects the number of fatigue-related accidents.
Why were hours-of-service regulations put in place, anyway?
In order to combat driver fatigue and a rising number of truck accidents, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) revised their regulations to allow drivers to have more time away from the wheel and to get good, quality rest. Before 2020, truck drivers’ actual driving limits were considerably higher. They were able to drive up to 82 hours in eight consecutive days, which comes out to 10.25 hours per day. Because of this long driving limit, many drivers were facing serious fatigue as they were driving.
How does fatigue affect truck drivers?
According to the National Safety Council, awareness and reaction times change quite drastically when we’re tired and drivers are three times more likely to be in a car crash if they are driving while fatigued. While this is dangerous enough for a person operating a regular motor vehicle, imagine how much more dangerous it is for a person operating a multi-ton truck. And not only is it dangerous for the driver, but they are also putting everyone else on the road in danger, as well.
If you or someone you know was injured in an accident caused by a fatigued truck driver, Larson Law Firm P.C. can help. We also proudly represent truck drivers that have sustained injuries in collisions. With offices in Minot, Bismarck, and Fargo, our truck accident lawyers are close by when you need us. Call us today at 701-484-HURT, or submit our contact form to schedule a free consultation with a member of our team.
Mark Larson is a Certified Civil Trial Specialist and Certified Civil Pre-Trial Specialist focusing on personal injury, motor vehicle, wrongful death, and oil field claims. Since 1979, Larson Law Firm has served the injured throughout North Dakota. Read more about Mark V. Larson