New Rules For Truckers Aim To Reduce Distractions, Clarify Rest Breaks

If you’ve ever shared the road with a large truck – an 18-wheeler or a tanker, for example – you know just how precarious the situation is. One small mistake can escalate into a catastrophic accident, so while you practice caution yourself, you also hope that the trucker observes utmost safety as well.

Laws constantly aim to ensure road safety with truck drivers and trucking companies. Recently, new federal rules have been enforced or are on the way to enactment, targeting specific issues that affect trucking safety. Here’s an overview of these rules and what they would mean to truckers and to us motorists.

Federal Rules Restrict Mobile Phone Use By Commercial Drivers

Earlier this year, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) updated its rules for drivers of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs). These apply to most of the trucks and buses on our roads today, which transport goods or passengers.

The rules now include not just a strict ban on texting while driving, but also a ban on other forms of mobile phone use. Prohibited actions include reaching for a phone, holding a phone, and pressing multiple buttons on a phone.

The update also defines texting as reading or manually entering text into an electronic device. This means that “texting”, according to the rules, could also refer to emailing, instant messaging, or even pressing more than one button to call someone on a mobile device.

The FMCSA published these new rules after it commissioned a research on safety among truckers. The study found that CMV drivers who text behind the wheel are 23.2 times more likely to be involved in a critical event such as a crash or near-crash.

In fact, on average, a texting driver takes his eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds – and when traveling at 55 mph, it means that the driver covers some 371 feet of road without looking. That’s about the length of a football field – a huge opening for collisions and wrecks.

With the updated regulation, the FMCSA hopes to reduce distracted driving among truck drivers and consequently reduce truck accidents throughout the country.

Meal Breaks And Rest Breaks For Truck Drivers

Meanwhile, a different set of rules are being tackled today by Congress, particularly a bill that would reauthorize the US aviation system. One of the provisions of this bill calls for the establishing of uniform nationwide rules regarding meal-and-rest breaks for truck drivers.

Laws on truck driving breaks vary from state to state, and this has long created confusion among truckers that cross state boundaries. Federal regulations only require truck drivers to take one 30-minute break within their first eight hours of driving, but some state laws differ from this.

In California, for instance, truck drivers must take a 30-minute meal break within the first five hours of their shift, plus another 30-minute break within the succeeding five hours. Employees in the state are also required to take a paid 10-minute rest break within every four hours of work.

The California rest stop rules have become a reference point in the debate regarding truck driving laws. In one well-known case, known as Dilts v. Penske Logistics, Inc., a group of delivery drivers filed a class action lawsuit against their employer who allegedly failed to provide them the meal-and-rest breaks required by California law. The employer, on the other hand, claimed that federal law preempts the state’s rules.

By 2014, the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that federal regulations do not supersede state labor laws in terms of mandated rest breaks. In other words, California’s break rules were upheld.

The law on trucking rest breaks could be clarified once and for all when Congress decides on the current bill.The resulting federal rules could potentially supersede or add to existing state laws regarding truck driving.

The American Trucking Association lauds the bill, emphasizing that there needs to be a uniform set of policies for motor carriers. Beyond this, safety advocates hope that the anticipated policies will support truck drivers’ need for adequate rest during their shifts.

Meal breaks and rest breaks could help minimize driver fatigue, which is one of the top factors in large truck crashes, as revealed by an FMCSA study. Other data indicate that driver fatigue contributes to as many as 40 percent of all truck accidents. Sufficient breaks are thus more than a right of drivers – they are important factors in reducing catastrophic wrecks.

Safety For Other Drivers

As our laws continue to tackle concerns on trucking safety, we motorists must also continue to be vigilant around these large vehicles. Additional safety recommendations apply when driving around large trucks. Here are some tips from the FMCSA:

  • Avoid a truck’s blind spots. If you can’t see the driver in the truck’s side mirror, it’s best to assume that the driver can’t see you either.
  • Don’t cut in too close in front of a truck, as they take longer to stop.
  • Avoid tailgating a truck.
  • Anticipate that a truck takes wide turns, so give it extra turning space.
  • Be extra patient, as trucks have operating restrictions such as speed limiters.

Practicing these safety tips greatly cuts your risk of crashing with a truck. But if you or someone you love gets involved in a truck accident – and someone else may be responsible for it – don’t hesitate to consult an attorney. You may be entitled to a legal claim that not only compensates you but also helps reduce truckers’ negligence on the road.

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