U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today launched a two-pronged federal plan to keep exhausted truck drivers off the road in order to prevent the far too regular occurrence of truck crashes caused by driver fatigue, including the recent deadly accident involving Tracy Morgan and three other individuals and other deadly crashes like one in Illinois this year where a trucker had falsified his logbook and had only slept 4 hours in a 37 hour shift. In fact, every year on average 4,000 people die in truck crashes and about 100,000 more are injured at a cost of at least $87 billion, and a federal study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) showed that approximately 13 percent of drivers involved in serious crashes have been fatigued. First, Schumer called for the federal Department of Transportation (DOT) and the FMCSA to speed up and finalize the long-languishing rule that would require companies and their truck drivers to utilize Electronic Logging Devices – like black boxes – to more accurately and efficiently log the number of hours truckers drive. This will help ensure that fatigued truckers cannot skirt the rules and inaccurately log the hours, and it is also popular with the vast majority of truckers and others who otherwise do this tracking by hand. Second, Schumer said that the federal DOT should be permitted to study, and if warranted, increase the level of coverage that trucker companies are required to hold so that victims of large, and particularly destructive accidents can receive the compensation and coverage that they deserve. This would also promote a stronger culture of safety if trucking company’s liability is higher.
The DOT’s timeline for electronic logging devices is currently behind schedule. The process began in 2010, but has been bogged down in bureaucratic delays, legal challenges, and other issues. When MAP-21, the federal transportation bill, was signed into law in 2012, it required the DOT to finalize an electronic logging device rule for all trucks by October of 2013 and have it fully implemented within two years. In March of 2014, DOT finally proposed the new rule required by MAP-21, significantly behind schedule. In May of 2014, the DOT extended the public comment period on the new rule for another thirty days, barring another extension, that comment period is expected to close at the end of the June. Following the closing on the public comment period, the DOT will review the comments, potentially make changes to the proposed rule, and then seek final approve by the Secretary of the Department of Transportation. As of now, a final rule is expected to be issued by the end of the year or early next year. This could mean trucks would be required to have the devices by the end of 2016 or the beginning of 2017.
“Each year thousands of people are hurt and even killed in truck crashes in part due to overworked and fatigued drivers who shouldn’t be on the road,” said Schumer. “The feds must tackle this issue head on by quickly moving forward and requiring much-needed electronic logging devices – like black boxes on airplanes- to ensure bad actors are not on the road. What’s more, truck insurance coverage must be raised to ensure that the victims of any such tragedy are compensated after being hurt. In light of this most recent truck crash and hundreds of others, we must do everything we can to speed up these requirements.”
On June 7th, Tracy Morgan, former Saturday Night Live comedian, was seriously hurt in a crash involving a Wal-Mart tractor-trailer. Another comic, James McNair, was tragically killed at the scene. Morgan’s van overturned after being hit by the truck. The crash led to a chain reaction involving four additional cars. The driver of the tractor trailer was charged with one count of death by auto and four counts of assault by auto. In the criminal complaint, it is alleged that the driver of the truck had not slept for more than twenty-four hours before the crash. Schumer said that we do not know for sure whether this driver broke federal fatigue rules, but this provides an example of the harm fatigued driving can cause.
According to FMCSA, in 2012 there were 10,659,380 large trucks registered in the United States. According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), in 2012 there were 333,000 traffic crashes involving large trucks, 3,921 fatalities and more than 104,000 injuries involving large trucks. According to a 2006 study conducted by the FMCSA, 13 percent of Commercial Motor Vehicle drivers were considered to have been fatigued at the time of a serious crash.
Under recent federal law, truck drivers are only supposed to drive 70 hours total in a week. They can have 14 hour work days, and only 11 hours of that can be spent driving. And, they must take a half hour break in that 11 hour window. To increase compliance of these hours-of-service regulation, the FMCSA proposed rulemaking would require the use of electronic logging devices for interstate trucks, which would replace the current paper based logbook system that is subject to easy falsification and manipulation. Automatic, accurate data would eliminate this time-consuming process for good actors and would make it easier for the FMCSA to crack down on dangerous truck drivers and companies that are trying to skirt safety rules. In January, a deadly crash occurred in Illinois involving a fatigued truck driver. It was found that he had falsified his log book and only slept 4 hours after a 37.5 hour drive.
For years, the DOT and FMCSA have been looking into the benefits of installed electronic hours-of-service recorders on safety. Their recent study suggested that trucks equipped with the electronic recorders had total crash and preventable crash rates that were significantly lower than the rates of trucks without the recorders. The electronic hours-of-service recorders onboard trucks had an 11.7 percent significantly lower total crash rate than non-equipped trucks for all crash types and a 5.1 percent significantly lower crash risk that non-equipped trucks for preventable crashes. Also, electronic hours-of-service recorders on trucks had a 53 percent significantly lower driving-related hours-of-service violation risk than non-equipped trucks and a 49 percent significantly lower non-driving related hours-of-service violation risk than non-equipped trucks.
Schumer today urged DOT to expedite the rulemaking process that would require the use of electronic logging devices for interstate trucks. Schumer explained that many truck drivers are in support of the electronic logging devices, such as: the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA), the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and the American Trucking Association.
Second, in order to improve the culture of safety within the trucking industry, Schumer pushed for FMCSA and DOT to be allowed to raise the minimum liability that truck companies must hold. Currently trucks are required to carry $750,000 in minimum liability coverage for the transportation of property, and $5 million for transportation of hazardous materials. These levels have not been updated since 1985. In 2012, the MAP-21 Transportation Bill required FMCSA to do a study into these levels and determine if they should be raised, and it also directed FMCSA to continue to look at this issue every 4 years. The results of that study were released in April of 2014. The study found that the rates should be raised and FMCSA intends to move forward with a rulemaking process to raise the rates. The report estimates that there are roughly 3,300 crashes per year that are catastrophic and exceed the current levels. Despite the fact that these minimum coverage requirements have not been updated in nearly 30 years, last week Rep. Steve Daines (R-Minn) passed an amendment into the THUD Appropriations Bill that would prevent FMCSA from moving forward with any action that would increase insurance requirements for truck companies. Schumer said today he will ensure that provision is not in the final THUD bill – allowing DOT and FMCSA to propose increases to the minimum liability coverage.