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Truck Accidents Lead to Proposed HOS Changes

Recently, several cars and big trucks were cruising down Skokie Highway (U.S. Route 41.) Suddenly, one of the big trucks slammed on its brakes and in seconds, the semi had caused a six vehicle pile-up. Four cars and one mangled rig later, one man was dead and several others were injured.

Big trucks continue to create big problems on our nation's roadways. In 2010, more than a half-million large trucks and commercial vehicles were involved in crashes and over 100,000 people were injured. Data from the Truck Safety Coalition (TSC) indicates that truck crash-related deaths increased to 4,000 in 2010, which is a significant increase from the 3,380 truck accident fatalities of 2009.

In addition to mechanical issues, weather, and distracted driving, fatigued driving has been a major cause, representing about 30 to 40 percent of accidents. As a result, last December the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's (FMCSA) proposed revisions to regulations regarding the hours of service (HOS) for commercial motor vehicle drivers.

The proposed HOS rule, originally set to be finalized in July 2011, has met with opposition. The rule covers on-duty times, sleeper-berth periods, and accommodations for non-driving time. More specifically, the rule change lowers maximum on-duty time from 14 to 13 hours and driving time from 11 to 10 hours per day. Mandatory breaks and a 34-hour restart time are also part of the new rule.

Opponents of the new rule, which include the American Trucking Association (ATA), consider the new rule burdensome and ultimately costly to the trucking industry; however, safety advocates and experts, including the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) disagree. The new HOS rule could potentially save the lives of thousands of truckers, drivers and passengers, by ensuring that well-rested drivers are sharing the roadways.

Based on the current revisions, stiff penalties will apply to truckers and companies that do not abide by the new law. A vehicle operator could be fined up to $2,750 for each HOS violation and each employer could face up to $11,000 for each offense.

The original approval deadline for the proposed HOS rule was not met on July 26, 2011; however, the FMCSA's HOS rule is now under review in the Office of Management and Budget and is expected to be approved by the end of the year-just in time for the trucking industry to get another safety wake-up call.

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