Truck drivers are under a lot of pressure. There is a shortage of qualified truck drivers, which is only getting worse. This trucker shortage leads to problems such as truckers driving even when they are too tired to do so safely, and companies hiring drivers without the necessary experience. Safety regulations exist in order to stop unsafe behavior in the trucking industry by imposing minimum standards that truck drivers and trucking companies are required to follow. There are regulations addressing a host of issues ranging from the maximum weight and length of commercial trucks and trailers to minimum age of commercial drivers to rules regarding when truckers have to take rest breaks.
Unfortunately, CNBC indicates that a lot of the safety regulations aimed at preventing truck crashes are likely going to be on the chopping block soon with changes in the federal government. The regulatory reforms expected to happen over the upcoming years could significantly increase the risk of truck collisions occurring.
Trucking industry lobbying groups have been trying to get a rule addressing trucker rest breaks suspended for years, and they finally succeeded. Congress attached reforms to a must-pass spending bill. These reforms suspended a requirement that truckers who had driven their maximum allowable weekly hours take a 34-hour rest break, including two periods between 1:00 and 5:00 AM.
The suspension of this rest break rule was a harbinger of things likely to occur in the near future. Trucking industry groups that pushed for the suspension of the rest break rule are expected to come back to lawmakers with many other proposed repeals and rule changes. They are likely to get many of their reforms accomplished.
Some of the rules expected to change relate to driver age, and to the weight and size of trucks. The maximum truck weight could be lifted to 90,000 pounds from the current 80,000 pound maximum and the maximum tractor-trailer length could be adjusted upward to 33 feet from the current 28 feet. Rules could change to allow for commercial truckers to be as young as 18 instead of the current 21-year-old minimum age limit. The federal government could also bar states from making rules on rest breaks going beyond what the federal regulations require.
If all of these changes happen, it could be bad news for road safety. A New York Times op-ed reported on a 17 percent increase in fatality rates in collisions involving large trucks over four years. Even more troubling, this increase happened at the same time as a three percent decline in car accident fatalities. The op-ed was called The Trucks are Killing Us, and this was before major safety rules were relaxed. When regulatory reform happens, things could unfortunately get much worse!