New law could scale back semi truck safety laws

Fatal truck accidents claim thousands of lives every year, and non-fatal crashes wreak havoc on the lives of many more. Over the years, federal lawmakers and regulatory agencies have passed numerous measures to help keep the public safe from these necessary but deadly vehicles. Now, Congress is considering a transportation bill that would scale back many of those provisions - even though federal crash statistics show that fatal truck accidents have been increasing every year since 2009.

Bigger, heavier trucks

Two of the most controversial measures contained in the proposed reform are those that would increase the size and weight of the biggest trucks allowed to travel on U.S. roads.

One provision of the bill would increase the maximum weight of a fully-loaded semi truck from 80,000 pounds to 91,000 pounds. Another would substantially lengthen the maximum length of the twin trailers used on double-semis (those hauling two trailers at once) from 28 to 33 feet each. Combined, these changes would result in much longer, heavier trucks that would be harder to stop, maneuver and control. Bigger trucks would also be even more dangerous when colliding with a car or other smaller passenger vehicle.

Younger drivers

Another component of the transportation bill would lower the minimum age of drivers for commercial trucking companies from 21 to 18. Freight companies say the industry is experiencing a driver shortage and that the change is necessary to widen the applicant pool. However, safety advocates say allowing younger drivers to operate commercial trucks would be dangerous, pointing out that teen drivers are statistically far more likely to be involved in accidents than those who are 20 years old and above.

Per mile driven, data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety show that drivers under the age of 20 are about three times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than older drivers. Considering that those statistics are taken almost exclusively from accidents involving ordinary passenger vehicles, it is likely that the discrepancy would be even higher among drivers operating massive semi trucks, which are both harder to operate and more deadly in a crash.

Longer work hours

Yet another aspect of the proposed legislation would increase the maximum number of hours that truck drivers are permitted to work within a single week. Currently, truck drivers are allowed to work no more than 70 hours in a single 8-day period. They are also required to take a two-night break of at least 34 hours between work weeks. These laws are meant to ensure that truckers are adequately rested and able to stay awake and alert while on the road. If the proposed legislation is passed, the maximum work week could be increased to 82 hours, and the mandatory rest period may be shortened, potentially increasing the number of crashes caused by drowsy truck drivers who nod off behind the wheel.

Even under current laws, a fully loaded semi truck may weigh up to 30 times as much as the average passenger car. As a result, truck accidents are much more dangerous for the occupants of passenger vehicles than for the truck drivers themselves. This means it is imperative for truck drivers and their employers to take every precaution in order to drive as safely as possible. When they fail to do so, they can be financially liable for the consequences. If you have been hurt in a truck accident, contact the Jasmer Law Firm to learn about the compensation that may be available for you and your family.