How COVID-19 Has Changed the Road for Truck Drivers
The FMCSA Has Suspended Hours-of-Service Laws for the First Time Since 1938
In March 2020, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) suspended hours-of-service regulations “in support of emergency relief efforts related to COVID-19 outbreaks.” This means certain truck drivers can spend more than 14 hours per day behind the wheel – without taking regular rest breaks or logging any off-duty time.
While this change may allow drivers to transport important items, like hand sanitizer and toilet paper, to hospitals and grocery stores more quickly, the suspension could also cause its own set of problems. Drowsy driving, for instance, is an issue that has long plagued truck drivers, especially those who violate FMCSA regulations.
How Does a Driver Violate FMCSA Regulations?
Under hours-of-service regulations, truck drivers may not log more than 14 hours of on-duty time per day. During these 14-hours, a truck driver may only spend up to 11 hours behind the wheel, and they must take rest breaks every 8 hours. Before a new 14-hour shift can start, truck drivers must also log 10 hours of off-duty time. Any divergence from these time limits is considered an FMCSA violation.
FMCSA regulations incentivize sleep and rest and discourage shipping companies from pushing their drivers too hard. They also seek to prevent driver fatigue, accidents with serious injuries, and roadway fatalities.
The Drowsy Driving Problem
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates drowsy drivers cause up to 6,000 fatal crashes each year, and figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NTHSA) log 72,000 crashes, 44,000 injuries, and 800 deaths in a single year (2013). Although the most obvious problem associated with drowsy driving is falling asleep at the wheel, sleep deprivation can affect drivers in other ways.
Drowsiness makes drivers:
- Less able to pay attention to the road
- Slower in sudden steering or braking maneuvers
- Less able to make good decisions
With all these factors its no surprise that truck accidents have been increasing in some parts of the country. In Maryland, for example, state troopers have increased patrols on certain roadways in an effort to prevent negligent behaviors and the collisions they cause.
Because roadways are largely empty during the COVID-19 pandemic, speed is also a factor in many truck accidents. Without traffic, many drivers are moving faster than usual. This behavior is especially dangerous for those driving 80,000-pound semi-trucks.
What To Do if You Are Hurt
If you or a loved one is harmed by a truck accident during the COVID-19 crisis or at any other time, please do not hesitate to contact Clark, Fountain, La Vista, Prather & Littky-Rubin. Our attorneys are here for you and can help you file a personal injury lawsuit to account for your losses.
Although truck drivers do not currently have to adhere to hours-of-service regulations, they still owe those around them a duty of care, and they are still bound by the rules of the road.