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Would letting truckers work 82 hours/week cause more accidents?

Our readers have no doubt heard by now about the horrific recent highway crash involving actor and comedian Tracy Morgan. Morgan and several others were seriously injured in the collision, and one man was killed.

Their vehicle, a stretch bus, rolled over after being struck from behind by a semi truck. Early indications are that the truck driver was fatigued, having stayed up for more than 24 hours, and did not notice traffic slowing down in front of him.

In a sad coincidence, this truck accident happened just as the U.S. Department of Transportation is considering changes to regulations about how many hours truckers can work per week. Drivers are currently limited to 60 or 70 hours per week, depending on the sort of business they work for.

But the trucking industry is pushing for a maximum of 82 hours per week. Over a six-day work week, that would translate to nearly 14 hours a day behind the wheel. Many of those hours would take place at night, if the trucking companies get their way.

The American Trucking Association believes that concerns about exhausted truck drivers harming others on the road are overblown. They cite statistics that claim that fatigued drivers cause “less than 10% of all truck crashes.” Why reducing truck accidents by nearly 10 percent is not a priority to the trucking company lobby is not clear.

In theory, driving more at night, when there are fewer vehicles on the road, could reduce the number of crashes. But increasing the total hours on the road would seem to create a greater risk of sleep-deprived drivers attempting to pilot huge, multi-ton trucks. This could offset any gains the late-night hours would achieve in terms of public safety.

Source: The Newark Star-Ledger, “After Tracy Morgan crash, Booker calls for feds to review truck safety,” Seth Augenstein, June 12, 2014

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