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DOT’s Fatigued Driving Rules Spark Furious Debate

A debate has sprung up about the advisability of new regulations designed to eliminate fatigue among commercial truck drivers.  On the one side are safety advocates and government agencies who say that such rules are a necessity in order to prevent additional collisions, and on the other are trucking organizations and truckers who worry that the increased oversight will have negative financial repercussions.

A new article puts the spotlight on a Georgia-based trucking team comprised of a father and son who drive the same truck.  Basically, one of them used to take a day shift while the other drove at night.  But they say that the new rules ensure they won’t be able to accommodate that regimen.  The son explained that he will have to alternate day and night shifts now, which will disrupt sleeping schedules and cost them money due to the longer periods of time that the truck isn’t in service.

Trucking organizations such as Owner Operators Independent Drivers Association seem to agree.  They point out that the rules don’t allow for the flexibility needed for the multi-faceted trucking industry.  A representative of the American Trucking Associations points out that he doesn’t necessarily buy into the benefits stipulated by the government.

All the same, those benefits are hard to ignore.  The new rules from the Department of Transportation, which have been supported by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, provide for a new restart mandate which should give truckers more time to rest if they need it.  If a driver wants to restart their work week (essentially earning back the time they’ve driven in a given week so that they fall within regulatory limits), they must rest for two days straight between 1 and 5 am and take 34 hours off in total.  They can only do this once in a given week.

Prior to the rule, only the 34 hour regulation was in place.  The thinking is that the early morning sleeping section will allow drivers to get the night sleeping schedule the body is naturally accustomed to.  The DOT believes that, on a yearly basis, 19 fatalities and 560 injuries will be prevented with the new mandate, as well as 1,400 crashes.

An estimated 320,000 crashes involving a bus or a commercial truck took place in 2011, and 4,000 fatalities are thought to have occurred as a result.  A DOT study found that 13% of serious crashes involved a fatigued driver.

The new regulations also force drivers to take a 30 minute break after driving for eight hours.  They continue to stipulate that no more than 11 hours can be driven at a time.  Now that the rules are in place, only time will tell what the ramifications are going to be for safety.

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