There are roughly 3.5 million professional truck drivers in America. Each day they carry the goods and cargo that keep the economy going strong. It’s hard work. It’s long work. It’s tiresome work and there are efforts being made in Congress to make the work harder and the hours longer. Key changes tucked within the highway bill include the following:
Allowing Longer Trucks
Current law allows for the transport of two, 28-foot trailers. The bill passed by the House would allow the transport of two, 33-foot trailers. Should the Senate pass the bill, this will mean that trucks could be up to 91 feet long. That’s the equivalent of an 8-story building. Coupled with increased highway speeds around the country, that means more inertia, longer stopping times (roughly 252 feet as opposed to the current 230 feet), and a greater risk of accidents caused by both blind spots and drivers who are simply unable to stop their trucks in time to prevent an accident. It’s a common problem in cases handled byTennessee truck accident lawyers.
Current law requires interstate drivers to be 21-years old before they can obtain a commercial drivers license. The House bill would have given states the authority to lower the minimum age for interstate truck drivers to 18. Had it passed, it would have meant that drivers with far less experience would have been given the responsibility of transporting cargo from coast-to-coast without the experience and skill to do so safely. Trucking industry advocates argue the move is necessary in order to offset the current shortage of truck drivers.
Currently, 49 states allow truck drivers to be as young as 18 as long as they don’t cross state lines. This is allowed even though statistics show that drivers under 21 are at greater risk for being involved in a fatality causing accident. The NHTSA’s statistics show that up to 19% of all fatality accidents involve a driver under the age of 21. While the proposal was removed from the highway bill, it was replaced with a pilot program involving military veterans with truck-driving training and experience. Data from this program will be used to determine whether it is feasible to reconsider lowering the driving age in the future.
Eliminating Rest Periods
Current law requires truck drivers to take two consecutive nights off every week. The House bill would remove that requirement and allow drivers to take a single night off. This will increase driver fatigue which is a leading cause of trucking accidents.
The dangers of these proposals are evident. Every year, nearly 4,000 people die, and thousands more are injured in truck related accidents. Since 2009, there has been a 17% increase in fatalities, and a 28% increase in injuries. These statistics should give legislators pause as they consider changing regulations that are designed to reduce the number of injuries at fatalities on American roads.
Removal of Safety Rating Information
Truck companies’ federal safety ratings are currently listed on the Internet where the public can view them at will. Proposed changes by trucking industry lobbyists would remove these from public view. These ratings show information from compliance with federal regulations that can impact a company’s insurance rates or dissuade customers from using a company for their cargo transportation needs. Should Congress grant this request, it will mean that shippers will not have full and complete information to review prior to making a decision on which company to hire.
Fatalities by the Numbers
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has declined comment on these proposals, however, the statistics compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show just how dangerous these proposals could be. According to NHTSA data, 3,964 people were killed in crashes involving large trucks in 2013. This number has been steadily increasing since 2009. These numbers will increase should these changes to existing law occur. Not only will the changes mean longer trucks and longer hours, future changes could introduce younger and less experienced drivers into the mix. Taken together, these changes and potential changes in the future create a recipe for increased accident rates around the country.
Resistance from the State Legislatures
Legislators from Mississippi, Illinois, and Pennsylvania have announced they will vote to oppose these proposed changes to the law. In particular, they share the concerns of Tennessee truck accident lawyers regarding the extension of truck length and the increased weight they would carry. Citing both safety and infrastructure concerns, it’s likely that legislators within these three states will hold firm in their positions. Moreover, the public has made their position clear; according to Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, 77% of motorists are opposed to sharing the road with longer trailers. It’s unclear how Tennessee’s legislature will react to the proposed changes, however, it’s notable that Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander has voted in favor of them.