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Will The Walmart Crash Affect HOS? - Copy

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Many who rallied in support of the suspension of changes to the Hours of Service (HOS) mandate are now faced with the realities of driver fatigue.

Two days after the Senate Appropriations Committee (SAC) voted to block implementation funding of the HOS restart provision, a disastrous collision on the New Jersey Turnpike has given the SAC reason to halt any additional modifications to the existing HOS restart rules.

According to the New York Times, a Walmart tractor-trailer rear-ended a van, overturning the vehicle and setting off a chain of events that involved four other vehicles.  Comedian James McNair was pronounced dead at the scene and two others, including actor and comedian Tracy Morgan, were in critical condition.

Following the crash, the driver, Kevin Roper, was charged with “one count of death by auto and four counts of assault” as a result of the accident.  David Glassman, Kevin Roper’s defense lawyer, has entered a not-guilty plea on all accounts.  

At the time of the collision, Roper had been driving his truck “without having slept for a period in excess of 24 hours resulting in a motor vehicle accident,” according to a criminal made available by the Middlesex prosecutor.

Walmart spokesperson Brooke Buchanan took exception with this most recent development.

“With regards to news reports that suggest Mr. Roper was working for 24 hours, it is our belief that Mr. Roper was operating within the federal hours of service regulations,” Buchanan said in a statement.

HOS Rules: Safety Regulation vs. Demand for Increased Productivity

This heartbreaking incident brings light to the on going debate of what should be expected of drivers in regards to the HOS rules.

Typically, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) doesn’t monitor or examine motor-vehicle accidents, but this incident, according to a report by Bloomberg.com, has the board’s attention.

NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway said, “There were multiple vehicles involved, so we would like to see what issues are at play in this accident. As in all investigations, we will look at the work/rest schedule of the drivers.”

The circumstances of the crash put forward motivation that the existing mandatory HOS restart and rest-period are maintained.

Last week’s SAC vote would have blocked funding in the 2015 fiscal year for changes in HOS regulations that ban more than one restart per week and require that a qualified restart include two consecutive rest periods between 1 a.m. to 5 a.m.

Despite all the support for driver safety, trucker advocates firmly believe drivers are fully capable of performing and managing their own safety without HOS regulations.  "Truckers have long pointed out the negative impacts of the 2013 changes on their ability to get rest, stay out of busy city traffic, spend time at home, and make a family-supporting income," Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said in a press release last week.

The American Trucking Associations (ATA) originally wanted the SAC to suspend the HOS restart provision, but has since changed its stance.  Both ATA and the Department of Transportation (DOT) emphasize the need to study driver fatigue in a more in-depth manner.

(DOT) Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx stated last week, “Fatigue has long been recognized as a factor in crashes," he said in a statement last week. "It's why we recently revised the hours for truck drivers, where fatigue is still a leading factor in the 300,000 crashes that occur each year."

"These fatigue-fighting rules for truck drivers were carefully crafted based on years of scientific research and unprecedented stakeholder outreach," said FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro. "The result is a fair and balanced approach that will result in an estimated $280 million in savings from fewer large truck crashes and $470 million in savings from improved driver health. Most importantly, it will save lives."

The final rule retains the current 11-hour daily driving limit and 14-hour work day.

Current HOS rule as per the FMCSA website:

  • Limits the maximum average work week for truck drivers to 70 hours, a decrease from the current maximum of 82 hours
  • Allows truck drivers who reach the maximum 70 hours of driving within a week to resume if they rest for 34 consecutive hours, including at least two nights when their body clock demands sleep the most - from 1-5 a.m.,
  • Requires truck drivers to take a 30-minute break during the first eight hours of a shift.

The implementation of HOS is focused on encouraging driver safety and preventing fatalities.  However with the HOS rules in flux until completion of an in-depth driver fatigue study, it is important fleet managers have accurate and comprehensive logs to ensure HOS compliance.  Not only will this reduce the risk of non-compliant behavior and keep their drivers safe but it will also help in investigations if a traffic violation were to occur.

The added measures to keep drivers safe versus the demands for businesses to meet delivery times makes for quite the discussion, not only in the Senate but among everyday truckers.

Will safety be a victim to the demands of productivity?  What do you think?

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