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Senator Collins tries to freeze new federal rules intended to prevent fatigued driving by truck drivers

Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) has proposed legislation, supported by a group of trucking and business organizations, that would freeze some new federal regulations designed to address the problem of truckers driving without enough sleep.  Collins believes that these regulations need to be frozen and studied more because she thinks they are leading to unintended safety risks.

The problem of fatigued driving came to the forefront recently in connection with an accident that involved a Wal-Mart truck driver crashing into comedian Tracy Morgan’s car, leaving Morgan seriously injured and another passenger dead.  However, safety advocates have said that the problem has gone on for years.

Mainer Daphne Izer, founder of Parents Against Tired Truckers (PATT) has expressed deep dissatisfaction with Collins’ action. “I have whiplash—one month ago I was in the White House celebrating vital improvements to reduce truck driver fatigue, and now my own senator is using her power as Ranking Member on the THUD Appropriations Subcommittee to undo a rule which will result in more overly tired truckers on our roads,” said Izer.

Last year, new federal regulations went into effect which reduced the average maximum number of hours a truck driver could work per week from 82 to 70; required drivers to take a 30 minute break during the first 8 hours of a shift; and required drivers who reached the 70 hour weekly threshold to rest for 34 hours—including two nights during the hours of 1 am to 5 am—before they can drive again.

Collins’s bill would address the requirement that the 34 hour rest period include two days where the driver rests from 1 am to 5 am.  She wants to freeze that rule so that it can be further studied because she believes it results in more trucks on the road during peak traffic times.  Collins has received support from Annette Sandberg, who served as the head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) under President George W. Bush.

Unfortunately, many trucking businesses are set up in such a way that both the companies and the truck drivers have an incentive to skirt the rules.  Trucking companies get paid based on how many deliveries they make and how quickly they can make them, and truck drivers do as well.  So, both the trucking companies and the truck drivers have an incentive to drive their trucks as much as possible.

Truck drivers are supposed to log the time that they spend driving so that law enforcement officials can police whether the drivers have exceeded the number of hours they are allowed to drive but trucking companies who want to violate the rules will sometimes direct their drivers to falsify those logs.  The FMCSA recently issued new regulations, designed to address this problem, that would require trucking companies to install Electronic Logging Devices which would make it more difficult to falsify the number of hours a driver has driven.

The Maine Employee Rights Group has represented truck drivers who blew the whistle on their employers requiring them to violate federal rules regarding the maximum number of hours that they could drive.  If you are a truck driver facing this problem at work, contact us to learn more about your rights.

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