Feds Continue Watering Down Truck Driver Safety Rules

Truck drivers hauling certain consumer products are exempt from some HOS (Hours of Service) rules, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Administration.

The latest exemption does not expire until May 2022 at the earliest. In a statement, the FMCSA stated the extension was necessary, even though COVID-19 cases are dropping, since “persistent issues arising out of COVID-19 continue to affect the U.S. including impacts on supply chains and the need to ensure capacity to respond to variants and potential rises in infections. Therefore, a continued exemption is needed to support direct emergency assistance for some supply chains.” 

The HOS waiver applies to drivers carrying livestock, feed for livestock, fuel, most medical supplies, and most food and paper products.

Drowsy Truck Drivers

Truck drivers are usually independent contractors with very small profit margins. An early delivery bonus, no matter how small, could be the difference between losing money and making money on a certain job. Therefore, truckers have a strong financial incentive to stay on the road as long as possible. If they have a choice, safety always takes a back seat to speed. 

Biologically, fatigue has the same effects as alcohol. Drowsiness, like alcohol intoxication, slows motor skills and compromises judgment abilities. In fact, driving after 18 consecutive awake hours, which is the equivalent of a long day on the road, is like driving with a .05 BAC level. That is above the legal limit for commercial operators in Georgia.

Alcohol and drowsiness have something else in common, as well. There is no immediate cure for either condition. Only time cures alcohol intoxication. The body must process the alcohol and dispose of it through the liver. Similarly, only sleep cures fatigue. Basting the radio, turning up the air conditioner, and other shortcuts do nothing to address the underlying symptoms of fatigue.

To combat the effects of drowsiness, many truckers use amphetamines or other stimulants. These drugs usually do more harm than good. They also impair judgment. They make users edgy and suspicious. These drugs are also very addictive, which means truckers must use more and more to obtain the same effect. Finally, when these drugs wear off, users often crash fast and hard.

Evidence in Fatigued Truck Driver Claims

To prove a drowsy truck driver claim in court, a Marietta personal injury attorney can use direct or circumstantial evidence.

A large truck’s Electronic Logging Device usually provides direct evidence of fatigue. This gadget is connected to the vehicle’s drivetrain. Therefore, if the truck is in motion, the ELD clock is ticking. Before the ELD mandate took effect, truckers usually logged their service hours manually. ELDs are difficult to hack, so the evidence is almost bulletproof in court.

Circadian rhythm fatigue, which a Marietta personal injury attorney uses circumstantial evidence to prove, may be an even bigger problem than HOS fatigue. Most people are naturally drowsy at certain times of day, even if they had plenty of sleep the previous night. Other circumstantial evidence of fatigue includes erratic driving before the wreck and an inability to remember the previous few miles traveled.

In a drowsy truck driver or other injury claim, the victim/plaintiff must prove negligence, or a lack of care, by a preponderance of the evidence, or more likely than not.

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