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Increasing Danger of Fatal Semi-Truck Crashes as FMCSA Revises Hours-of-Service (HOS) Rules

May 25, 2020

On May 14, 2020, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) published its revisions to the Hours-of-Service (HOS) safety regulations that all commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers must follow. The full text of the FMCSA Final Rule can be read here. The changes are effective in September 2020.

The 2020 HOS Rule Revision does four things:

(1) expands the short-haul exception to 150 air-miles and allows a 14-hour work shift to take place as part of the exception;

(2) expands the driving window during adverse driving conditions by up to an additional 2 hours;

(3) requires a 30-minute break after 8 hours of driving time (instead of on-duty time) and allows an on-duty/not driving period to qualify as the required break; and

(4) modifies the sleeper berth exception to allow a driver to meet the 10-hour minimum off-duty requirement by spending at least 7, rather than at least 8 hours of that period in the berth and a minimum off-duty period of at least 2 hours spent inside or outside of the berth, provided the two periods total at least 10 hours, and that neither qualifying period counts against the 14-hour driving window.

Federal Government: Changes Provide “Flexibility”

The official position of the federal government is that the HOS Rules have been amended in order to provide more “flexibility” to today’s truck drivers.

  • From the Secretary of the Department of Transportation Elaine L. Chao: “America’s truckers are doing a heroic job keeping our supply chains open during this unprecedented time and these rules will provide them greater flexibility to keep America moving.”
  • From FMCSA Acting Administrator Jim Mullen: “The Department of Transportation and the Trump Administration listened directly to the concerns of truckers seeking rules that are safer and have more flexibility—and we have acted. These updated hours of service rules are based on the thousands of comments we received from the American people. These reforms will improve safety on America’s roadways and strengthen the nation’s motor carrier industry.”

Safety Advocates Warn These Changes Will Endanger Lives and Cause More Fatal Truck Crashes

Flexibility, for many, is simply a label for deregulation of the trucking industry at the expense of safety for both drivers and the general public. Across the nation, there was an immediate outcry that these HOS Rule changes are dangerous for both the trucker as well as those who share the roads with him (or her).

In a joint statement released the same day of the FMCSA Announcement, several respected safety groups decried this change. We share their concerns (quoting from the statement, with emphasis added):

1. Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety President Cathy Chase:

“Deaths from crashes involving large trucks are skyrocketing with nearly 100 people being killed and over 2,800 more being injured every week on average. Any regulatory changes should be focused on reducing this preventable death and injury toll.

“Extending truck drivers’ already highly demanding work days and reducing opportunity for rest will endanger the public. The rule issued today contradicts the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s statutory duty to reduce crashes, injuries and fatalities.

“At a time of national crisis, the Administration should step up and protect truck drivers who have been heroically delivering essential goods and supplies, not put forth dangerous and deadly detractions from current safety policies.

“Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety and numerous other groups engaged in a good-faith effort to provide FMCSA with research and data-based feedback during this rulemaking process. Unfortunately, this final rule does not reflect reality and yields to pressure from certain segments of the trucking industry that continue to push for unwise, unjustifiable and unwarranted weakening of HOS rules and other truck safety regulations.”

2. International Brotherhood of Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa:

“Allowing truck drivers to work longer and longer each day puts everyone on the roads at risk. Many of these ‘reforms’ are shameful giveaways to industry. They fly in the face of the scientific evidence that was the cornerstone of the hours of service regulations, rules that required sensible limits on how long a driver could be on the job each day.

“Proposals like expanding the short haul exemption for local delivery and waste drivers will hit Teamster members the hardest. This specific change would allow drivers to work 14 hours a day without a single federally protected break during their day. That’s the wrong way to go for safety and a slap in the face to the men and women who work tirelessly to keep our country moving.”

3. Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH) Chair and of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) former Administrator Joan Claybrook:

“It’s no coincidence that this latest effort to expand hours of service began once truck companies and drivers were required in 2017 to objectively verify their driving time by using electronic logging devices to ensure compliance with federal rules.

“We know that in the past, skirting the rules or falsifying hours of service records was common and widespread. Now that it is harder to do, segments of the industry have been clamoring to eviscerate hours of service limits and pushing dangerous changes like the ones issued today.”

4. Truck Safety Coalition President Dawn King:

“My father, Bill Badger, was killed just before Christmas in 2004 when a tired trucker fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into Dad’s car. The driver stated that he had been driving all night. We cannot allow safety to be compromised in the name of flexibility, which is just a code word for danger and deregulation.

The Tragic Inevitability of More Fatal Semi-Truck Crashes

WRDB has been honored to advocate on behalf of the victims of fatal semi-truck crashes and commercial vehicle accidents in Texas and elsewhere. We understand these are some of the most horrific types of motor vehicle collisions anyone can experience. Truck collisions are often deadly for pedestrians and passengers, and truck drivers also face a high risk of death in an accident on the road.

Truck crash deaths are already breaking records. As the safety advocates point out, the number of deadly large truck crashes has been increasing each year in this country for the past five years.

Obviously the risk of death in a fatal truck crash will be higher than ever once these HOS changes go into effect.

The result will be grieving loved ones seeking justice from those who have put profits over people under the guise of “flexibility.” WRDB knows all too well how corporate revenues can trump compassionate care of the individual and what it takes to right these kinds of wrongs: WRDB has achieved the rare distinction of having four nine-figure jury megaverdicts against major corporate defendants.

WRDB’s Jeff Wigington explains:

“Sadly, we expect there will be even more horrifying truck crashes where drivers and others die in preventable accidents on the roads of Texas and elsewhere in this country. The new HOS Rule weakens safety measures that existed to protect the trucker from fatigue and exhaustion on the road. Drivers will be pushed to keep their wheels turning despite being drowsy or fatigued, and heart-wrenching tragedies will be the result."

For more on WRDB’s past experience in seeking justice in the aftermath of a deadly commercial truck crash, please review our extensive settlement history table as well as summaries of some of our past cases.