Truck accidents are a very real danger on roads throughout the United States, with National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reporting 330,000 trucks were involved in 2012 collisions. Almost 4,000 people died in 2012 truck crashes, and 104,000 people got hurt.
Because West Virginia truck accidents are so common, it would seem any rules or regulations passed by the federal government would be aimed at bringing down the rate of deadly accidents. Unfortunately, this is not the trend which is occurring. In fact, recent actions taken by federal law makers seem to be going in the opposite direction and making the roads less safe.
Are Federal Lawmakers Undermining Truck Safety Rules?
One successful effort on the part of federal lawmakers to undermine truck safety rules came in the December 2015 Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act. This Act was a piece of budget legislation aimed at keeping the government funded and open. Although it had virtually nothing to do with trucking regulations, there was a provision stuck into it which forced the suspension of a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulation (FMCSR) related to hours-on-duty.
The Act ended up suspending a rule which had been put in place related to a 34-hour rest break for truckers who had driven 60 hours over a week or 70 hours over eight days. FMCSRs stipulated a 34-hour rest break in these situations, with two periods of the rest break taking place between 1:00 AM and 5:00 AM. Trucking industry groups had objected to this because they didn't want to have to be on the roads during the day and industry groups even challenged the regulation in court and lost. Federal lawmakers, however, caved to those who wanted the rest break rules thrown out and included the provision suspending them in the must-pass budget legislation.
Now, there is another effort underway to undermine safety rules. There are 22 states which currently have stricter rules than the federal rules regarding truck driver rest and/or meal breaks. West Virginia is one of those states with a meal break requirement which is not found on the federal level. The federal government wants to pre-empt state laws and prevent states from passing or enforcing these rules for truckers which go beyond federal regulations.
Richmond Times Dispatch indicates federal lawmakers had included language in a transportation bill preventing states from passing their own specific rules and regulations on rest and meal breaks. However, the language had to be taken out of that bill. The same provision has now been quietly inserted into an aviation bill. If it passes, states will no longer be able to take additional protective steps to protect the rights of truckers to have a sufficient number of breaks.
When a trucker is tired or hungry and is being pressured to continue driving by an employer, this can exacerbate the risk of truck accidents and make the roads less safe for everyone. Hopefully, federal lawmakers will not succeed in undermining state efforts to prevent undesirable and dangerous situations with hungry and fatigued truckers.