WAAY 31 I-TEAM: Proposed rule changes for truckers could impact your safety on Alabama roads

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is considering relaxing rules to give truck drivers more discretion.

Posted: Aug 28, 2019 6:09 PM
Updated: Aug 29, 2019 7:53 AM

Federal regulators are considering giving truck drivers more flexibility when it comes to drive-time rules intended to save lives.

New information shows in 2017, out of more than 4,600 deadly truck crashes, 60 of those truck drivers were asleep or fatigued. Trade groups support the proposed changes arguing individual truckers know better than anybody how to manage their time. But, opponents say negligent truck drivers could pose a danger.

When Lavine Bell gets behind the wheel, she knows the roads can be risky. “I think that it’s very dangerous,” Bell told WAAY 31.

Sharing the road with big rigs, she’s had some close calls. “Several,” Bell explained. “And it’s very scary. My husband drove 38 years. He’s just been retired about four years. So, I know about that sleep thing, too.”

That sleep thing is mandatory rest breaks.

“I think about it all the time that they should have enough sleep,” Bell told us. “You can push yourself too far. And I know that they’re on a schedule, too. And I know that the law says one thing, but the boss says something else.”

“Trucking’s been around a long time,” Ron Arnold told WAAY 31. “There’s a lot of good truck drivers and a lot of safe drivers out on the road.”

Arnold told us everyone calls him “Big Ron.” He’s a long-time long-haul trucker from Brookhaven, Mississippi. I caught up with him buying a tire at the Elkmont exit along I-65.

Right now, on a given workday, regulators allow truckers to be on duty up to 14 hours. But, they’re limited to 11 hours driving time. And drivers must take a 30 minute off-duty break before hitting the eight-hour mark.

The hard-and-fast hours of service regulations are why you often see truckers parked on the side of the road.

“It’s because they have to,” Arnold told us. “The computers that are on board, they tell them they have to shut down right then and there. When they’re parked on the side, they’re sleeping. Run out of time, they’ve got to pull over and go to sleep.”

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration wants to put more power back in the hands of truck drivers and trucking companies. Some safety advocates argue that’s a bad idea. But, many truckers say more flexibility is what they need.

“They know how they operate, they know how their body is,” Arnold explained. “And that messes them up when you say, ‘Alright, you’ve got to stop right now.'”

The proposed rule change would allow drivers to count idle-time toward their mandatory off-duty half-hour break. For example, time a trucker waits for cargo to be loaded or unloaded or “Big Ron” Arnold’s wait for a new tire.

He says the change would make life simpler for him and he’d get rest more naturally. “Everybody’s different. Everybody sleeps differently. Everybody’s got to go to a different place, have a different time to get there. But, everybody’s got the same rule.”

Lavine Bell sees both sides. “They should follow that rule,” she said. “Sometimes we think that we’re okay when we haven’t had enough sleep when actually we’re not.”

Bell says new rules or old truckers need to stick to them to keep other drivers safe. “We should be OK as long as they follow the law.”

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration says it wants to hear from the public before making its decision. Right now, the proposal is published in the Federal Register for a 45-day public comment period. Click here to read the proposal.

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