Large trucks have long been among the most significant safety hazards on U.S. roads and highways. The size and weight disparity between semi-trucks and smaller vehicles is hazardous even under ideal driving circumstances. And circumstances are rarely ideal, given how much time truck drivers spend behind the wheel and how much pressure they are under to make delivery deadlines.
Drowsy driving and speeding are two major causes of truck accidents, and regulators have been working for decades to enact rules that would mitigate these risks. Unfortunately, the trucking industry continually pushes back against regulation, and changing political climates make it difficult to keep any substantive rules in place. Two recent news articles highlight the inconsistent (and therefore ineffective) approach to trucking industry regulation.
Recently, two U.S. senators introduced a bill that seeks to cap speed limits on tractor-trailers at 65 mph. This can actually be achieved electronically, because most commercial trucks come equipped with speed-limiting software already installed. Speed-limiting regulations have been introduced and even partially enacted in the past but have not been consistently enforced. This bill would essentially fix enforcement. It is estimated that using the speed limiters could save between 63 and 214 lives each year.
Another recent news article highlights a move toward deregulation of the same industry. The Transportation Department under the Trump Administration is currently attempting to relax federal hours-of-service rules for truck drivers. These regulations cap the number of consecutive hours that truckers can be behind the wheel in a given day or week, mandate rest breaks and require a “restart period” of rest before a new driving week can begin.
The rules were crafted over a period of many years in consultation with sleep researchers and other experts, and were meant to reduce truck driver fatigue and the dangers of drowsy driving. But because federal regulation is largely dependent on the priorities of a given administration, the rules could rather easily be set aside.
Trucking accidents are devastating, and the victims likely to be injured or killed are almost always occupants of smaller vehicles. Until America takes a more consistent approach to regulation of the interstate trucking industry, truck accidents will continue to be a regular occurrence on U.S. roads and highways.