Even though drowsy driving is a leading cause of crashes and highway fatalities, truckers are resisting federal authorities’ rules to ensure proper sleep. The issue of sleep-deprived truck drivers has resurfaced in light of a car accident that injured comedian Tracy Morgan and killed another passenger, New York Times reports. Morgan and the other passenger were in a van on the New Jersey Turnpike when a Walmart driver slammed into their vehicle. The driver had not slept in more than 24 hours, prosecutors say.
Federal officials say that over 30,000 people die on highways every year in the United States; one in seven of these fatalities are caused by large truck accidents. Last year, federal rules reduced the maximum workweek for truckers from 82 hours to 70 hours. Drivers who have reached the maximum number of hours for the week are required to take a mandatory 34-hour resting period, including two periods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. so that drivers can rest at least two nights a week. The new rules limit drivers to 11 hours a day on the road with a 30 minute break.
The trucking industry is resisting the new rules and attempting to get them repealed, the New York Times reports. Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, pushed an amendment through the Senate Appropriations Committee on June 6th that would halt the rules until further research is conducted. She argues that the rules would place more trucks on the road during peak traffic hours. Bill Graves, the president of the American Trucking Associations and a former governor of Kansas, says that proponents of the rules have “mischaracterized” the role of fatigue in the traffic problem.
Safety advocacy groups feel that the amendment would be a dangerous setback. According to Fred McLuckie, director of the department of federal legislation at the Teamsters union, fatigue is underreported at accidents and has become an even more relevant problem in recent years. “Congestion on the highways is greater than ever, there are more vehicles on the road than ever before, and drivers have to be more attentive than ever,” he told NYT. “Fatigue is even more of a concern now than it has been, and drivers need to get proper rest to do the job that they do.”
Drowsy driving is more common of a problem than most people think, safety investigators said. Drivers were more likely to have lapses in attention and drift out of their lanes if they only got one nighttime period of rest before their workweek instead of two.