The motor vehicle accident attorneys of Passen & Powell join with others in congratulating the trucking industry and its regulators on the continuing improvements in trucking safety over the past few years. According to the latest data, fatalities from accidents involving trucks have decreased by one-third, or 33 percent, since the latest hours of service, or HOS, rules first became effective in January 2004. Injuries short of fatalities have also decreased significantly in this same seven-year period.
The 2004 HOS rules were created by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The FMCSA conducted a thorough review of the research available at the time on driver alertness, sleepiness, and working hours. The agency attempted to properly balance safety concerns against the economic interests of the trucking industry. In doing so, the HOS rules were written to cover maximum consecutive driving hours, rest period length, work shifts, and restart timing. As the results above demonstrate, these rules are having an effect in terms of reducing the number of people killed in vehicle accidents.
Perhaps that is why the American Trucking Association has issued a white paper (and launched a supporting web site) advocating for the retention of the current HOS rules. Informed parties such as the Chicago car accident lawyers at Passen & Powell know that the soon-to-be-published proposed rules of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will likely amend the current hours-of-service rules which are applicable to commercial drivers.
We expect that the new proposed rules will reduce the total consecutive driving time allowed, mandate that drivers must take a rest period after every shift, and lengthen the restart period that must be given before a driver may go back on duty. The rules are currently under review at the White House Office of Management and Budget, and should be formally proposed and published soon.
The ATA has issued a statement on the matter, that “When viewed against that sterling safety record, it seems plain that the Department of Transportation’s willingness to reconsider the HOS rules has almost everything to do with politics and little or nothing to do with highway safety.” In other words, they believe that the dramatic improvement in safety over the past few years is the reason for its opposition to further changes in the HOS rules.
Our Chicago car accident attorneys disagree. Although the new HOS rules will cost the trucking industry money in terms of compliance, it is impossible to put a price tag on the cost of those who continue to lose their lives, livelihood, or health due to fatigued commercial drivers.
Moreover, the continually improving fatality rates simply cannot all be chalked up to the 2004 HOS rules. If that were the case, the improvement would have been dramatic in the first year or two, then fatality rates per miles drives would have remained level. Instead, the improvement was not confined to the immediate period after the new rules took effect, but the relative number of fatalities and accidents has steadily decreased each year since the 2004 rules went into effect. Indeed, the number of truck-involved traffic fatalities declined 20 percent in 2009 alone. We thus cannot believe that the 2004 rules alone are responsible for these gains.
We urge the FMCSA to move forward with the improved HOS rule proposals. To put the new rules in perspective, the reduced HOS hours would still allow a driver to be on the road for 10 hours each day (instead of the current 11). Ask yourself whether you want to be in the lane next to the semi driven by a driver in that eleventh hour.
Thus, we believe that we, as a nation, should not settle for “better than before.” We have an obligation to ourselves, and to those who may be injured by fatigued drivers, and to the commercial drivers themselves, to continue to make improvements wherever possible.
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago car accident attorney at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.