Electronic Logging Devices Rule Held to be Constitutional
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association filed a constitutional challenge against the electronic logging device rule, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit held that the rule is constitutional. It is on track to be fully implemented by Dec. 2017 unless the association appeals it to the Supreme Court of the United States. The regulation will require all large commercial trucks to have electronic devices installed, which will track and record whenever the trucks are in use.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association filed the lawsuit against the Federal Motor Carriers’ Administration on behalf of two truck owners. The drivers alleged that the regulation would violate their constitutional rights to privacy by recording all of their actions while they are driving. The court ruled on Oct. 31, 2016, holding that the electronic logging device mandate does not violate the constitutional right to privacy. The court found that the government’s interest in protecting other motorists outweighed any privacy issues. As a result, the rule is still scheduled to move forward. The plaintiffs have not said whether or not they intend to pursue the matter to the Supreme Court. If they do, and the court agrees to hear the case, it would be a final decision. If they do not appeal it, then the regulation will move forward.
Prior Lawsuit Against Previous ELD Rule Version
In 2010, the FMCSA had attempted to pass a prior regulation requiring electronic logging devices in commercial trucks. At that time, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association filed a lawsuit against the FMCSA on the basis of constitutional privacy concerns. The Appeals Court held that the previous version was unconstitutional because it required the installation of cameras inside of the trucks. The current version does not, allowing it to pass constitutional muster.
Reasoning for the Rule
Large trucks have the potential of causing severe injuries and deaths when they cause truck accidents. This has led the government to institute numerous regulations on the trucking industry. The ELD rule is meant to prevent truck drivers from falsifying their log books and ignoring the hours-of-service rules. Those rules are in place to keep drowsy drivers off of the roads, a problem that a truck accidents attorney frequently sees in injury cases. A truck accidents attorney is hopeful that the new mandate will minimize the number of accidents that happen. Truck accidents often permanently change the quality of lives of their victims.
Data Collected by Trucks’ Black Boxes
When commercial truck drivers cause accidents in Colorado, it is important for the injured victims or the families of people who are killed to try to preserve the evidence that is contained on the trucks’ black boxes. Like airplanes, commercial trucks contain electronic control modules or electronic logging devices that record important data about the truck in the moments leading up to the crash that can help plaintiffs prove the fault of the truck drivers. This type of data has the potential to help to strengthen the claims of injured victims or of surviving family members.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requires that all commercial trucks have electronic logging devices installed in them. These devices record such information as the speed at which the truck was traveling, whether the driver applied the brakes or the gas pedal, the change in the truck’s velocity after the impact, whether the driver was wearing a seat belt and whether the airbags deployed. They also record when the trucks are in motion and record data about multiple crashes and the time that elapses between them. All of this information can be important in a claim involving a commercial truck. Plaintiffs may be able to use the data to show that the truck drivers did something wrong so their cases are strengthened.
Getting Evidence From Black Boxes
Some electronic logging devices store information about the trucks while others transmit it back to the companies. Because of the possibility of the evidence getting sent to the companies, there is a potential that the companies might alter or destroy the data in an effort to avoid liability. Companies that destroy electronic evidence may face sanctions from the court. It is possible to secure a court order to preserve black box evidence by filing a motion for preservation of the evidence. This can prevent the trucking carrier from altering or destroying the data on the black box of the commercial truck that was involved in the accident.
While black box data is important, there are other types of evidence that can also help to prove liability. An accident reconstruction expert may review the scene and take photographs. He or she may measure any skid marks and complete calculations that might reveal the speeds and positions of the truck and the other vehicles. With strong evidence, plaintiffs are likelier to receive fair settlements.
What is Relay Trucking?
Relay trucking could be the answer to improving truckers’ work/life balance, preventing accidents, and saving lives. According to the FMCSA and NHTSA, fatigued and overworked drivers cause most commercial truck crashes. The FMCSA requires drivers and carriers to observe implemented hours of service regulations. Even with those limits, drivers often work long shifts with few or no breaks and are under pressure to meet deadlines are more prone to causing accidents. Truckers who engage in point-to-point, full-truckload freight loads have a tough job. They stay with the freight from the time it has been loaded on their rig until they reach the load’s destination. The truckers spend long hours on the road and often days away from their homes and families. The FMCSA requires drivers to take breaks, and their rigs are outfitted with electronic monitoring to keep track of driving and rest hours. However, driver fatigue still happens.
Less-than-full loads use a hub and spoke system where trucks are changed at different hubs along the freight’s journey. But this method is too costly and time-consuming for full loads. However, relay trucking, a new approach suggested by researchers at Oregon State University could improve the quality of life for truckers and save lives. This new method would rely on a large-scaled mixed fleet dispatching system. With relay trucking, the length of a trucker’s full-load trip could be reduced by 66 percent without delaying the delivery process. While a driver gets the rest he needs, another driver along the relay route would take over at the specified relay point and take the load to the next relay point and so on until the destination is reached. Theoretically, this method could be more efficient because the freight is constantly moving, shortening delivery times.
Relay Trucking Can Help Save Lives
According to the IIHS, in 2016, 3,986 people died in large truck accidents. Other drivers or passengers on the road accounted for 66 percent of those deaths. Truckers are required to comply with federal regulations of driving no more than 11 hours at a stretch, but some violate the law and go longer than 11 hours. This increases their risk of causing an accident from driver fatigue. Relay trucking would reduce the number of hours a trucker would drive, reduce driver fatigue and help save lives.
Truck Driver Shortage
The nationwide truck driver shortage could result in younger truckers behind the wheel of big rigs that cross state lines, raising the risk for truck accidents. Commercial drivers who are between the ages of 18 and 21 are six times likelier to be involved in fatal trucking accidents than older, more experienced drivers. The push to lower the interstate truck driving age comes in response to a stronger economy and the increased demand for truckers across the U.S. The shortage is expected to grow as today’s drivers begin retiring.
There is currently a truck driver shortage across the country because of the improved economy. In 2016, the trucking industry was short by 36,500 drivers, and the number was expected to reach 50,000 by the end of 2017. The shortage is expected to increase to 176,000 by 2026. Retirement is one factor causing the shortage of truckers. According to the American Trucking Association, the average age for truck drivers is just 49. Another reason for the shortage is the improved economy. Consumers have a higher demand for goods, which necessitates more freight. Because unemployment rates are low and truck driving is hard, it is becoming more difficult to attract enough drivers to the industry.
Proposed Law to Decrease Minimum Age
In response to the shortage, Representative Duncan Hunter of California has proposed a law that would decrease the minimum age for over-the-road truck drivers from 21 to 18. Proponents of the law argue that lowering the age would attract more drivers straight out of high school because they wouldn’t have to wait for three years after graduating. They argue that younger drivers are currently allowed to drive short distances within their own states but not to cross state lines. Opponents to the law argue that young drivers between ages 19 and 20 are six times more likely to be involved in fatal truck accidents than are older drivers. They argue that the law would place an unreasonable degree of risk on the public because younger drivers are simply not as safe as older drivers. If the law is passed, more younger drivers may be on highways across the nation. This could increase the danger of trucking accidents to the public at large.
The move to autonomous trucks may place added stress on Tennessee truck drivers and lead to new dangers from fatigue, disengagement and the potential for cyber terrorism. While manufacturers tout the safety of autonomous vehicles, their advent has led to questions about liability and concerns about the reaction times of drivers when they are forced to take control of the trucks in emergency situations. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration recently conducted a listening session to talk about some of the potential issues that could happen when large trucks are traveling on the roadways. The agency is trying to determine what type of regulations might be in order for autonomous trucks.
Potential Dangers of Autonomous Trucks
According to Mark Rosekind, the former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, truck drivers who are assigned to these trucks may quickly become complacent and experience passive fatigue while they are monitoring autonomous systems and are not in control of the trucks. Among the major accidents investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board in the last few years, 20 percent were caused by fatigue.
A researcher from the Institute for Simulation and Training at the University of Central Florida conducted a study of drivers in vehicles with level 3 automation, which is when vehicles are in full automation mode but drivers are expected to remain in the vehicles and take over in the case of an emergency. The researcher found that the drivers became disengaged and exhibited passive fatigue starting about 10 minutes after they began operating the vehicles in autonomous mode. When the researcher presented a simulated emergency situation of another vehicle pulling out into traffic ahead of the vehicles, he found that the drivers’ reaction times were much slower. Passive fatigue caused slower reaction times than active fatigue.
Other concerns include the potential for attacks on interconnected systems by cyber terrorists. If cyber terrorists are able to hack into the systems that control autonomous trucks, they could wreak havoc and cause the loss of many lives in large truck accidents. There are also concerns about liability in accidents that might be caused by autonomous trucks. The FMCSA is considering ways to regulate autonomous trucks to make them safer for everyone.
In Tennessee, truck drivers are prohibited from using their cell phones with their hands, but hands-free systems, which are also distracting, are allowed. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration prohibits the use of handheld cell phones while truck drivers are driving. The drivers are also forbidden from using hands-free phones if they must press more than one button to make a call. While the FMCSA recognizes the dangers of texting while driving and has moved to make doing so illegal, using a hands-free system is also distracting and may lead to truck accidents.
FMCSA Rules About Cell Phones
The FMCSA has rules in place about the use of cell phones while truck drivers are driving. They are prohibited from using phones that require them to hold the phones in their hands when they make calls. They are also prohibited from using phones that require them to push more than a single button to make a call. Finally, they cannot have their phones positioned in such a way that they are forced to reach for their phones, making them lean over and out of a seated position.
Why Hands-free Systems Are Distracting
Dialing on a hand-held cell phone, reading text messages or typing messages cause three different types of distraction, including visual, manual and cognitive distraction. Hands-free systems take away the problems of visual distraction and manual distraction because the drivers can keep their eyes on the roads and their hands on the wheel. However, when their cognitive attention is divided between responding to a message or talking and concentrating on the road, they are still cognitively distracted.
In addition, while hands-free system manufacturers claim that visual distraction is eliminated, most drivers who use hands-free systems still tend to glance at their phones when they are sending voice texts. Most people check to see if what they say is being translated accurately because the translators are known for making mistakes.
Because people tend to think that they are being safe when they use hands-free systems, this may give them a false sense of security when they are driving. Truck drivers may be distracted while they are sending text messages by voice or when they are talking on the phone over their hands-free systems, and these issues may result in accidents.