Tractor-trailer accident fatalities around the country reached a 29-year high in 2017 according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and some truck drivers and trucking industry trade groups say that federal rules designed to prevent fatigue could be partly responsible. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s hours of service regulations require truck drivers to take a 30-minute break after spending eight hours behind the wheel, which critics of the rules say encourages them to exceed posted speed limits.
These arguments are not borne out by NHTSA accident data. While the 4,761 road users killed in 2017 in accidents involving semi-tractor trailers represents a 9 percent increase over the 2016 death toll, the number of fatal truck crashes caused by excessive speed is actually declining. Road safety advocates are working hard to get to the bottom of the problem because about three in four of those killed in commercial vehicle crashes are occupants of other vehicles.
The FMCSA say that they currently have no plans to alter the hours of service rules, but the agency is reviewing about 5,200 revisions to the regulations suggested by trade groups, commercial vehicle drivers and members of the public. Other suggestions for improving tractor-trailer safety include promoting the use of software and electronic systems that monitor truck drivers and issue alerts when they exceed speed limits or show signs of fatigue.
Hours of service logs and truck driver monitoring systems could also help accident investigators to determine the cause of tractor-trailer accidents. When it is determined that they were the result of negligent behavior, experienced personal injury attorneys could file lawsuits against the truck drivers involved or their employers.