Every year, tractor-trailers cause an average of 4,000 fatalities in the United States. To put it in perspective, this number accounts for roughly 12 percent of all annual traffic fatalities in America. Often, fatal accidents are caused by inexperienced drivers working long hours and falling asleep at the wheel. Now, proposals are before Congress that would allow drivers as young as 18 to drive longer trucks for more consecutive hours without a break.
Despite the high number of accidents caused by big rig trucks, many Republican Senators and Representatives are considering loosening the restrictions that currently regulate the trucking industry. Safety advocates and truck accident victims are concerned that Congress is only supporting the trucking industry because trucking companies spend billions of dollars on campaign contributions each year. Most of this money goes to Republicans who control both branches of Congress.
PROPOSED LAW: TEEN BIG RIG DRIVERS, LONGER HOURS, MORE CARGO – RECIPE FOR HORRIFIC ACCIDENTS
Currently, truckers are limited to carrying 80,000 pounds of cargo in up to two 28-foot long trailers. Truckers must be 21 to drive across state lines and are required to rest for at least 34 hours if they work 60 hours a week. Proposals before the House and the Senate seek to raise the cargo limit to 91,000 pounds as well as increase the overall trailer length to 33 feet. Additional proposals would allow truckers as young as 18 to drive across the country and would potentially increase the work week to 82 hours.
Supporters claim that allowing larger trucks to carry more cargo will decrease the overall number of trucks needed to transport product around the country. The same argument applies to allowing truckers to work longer hours and allowing for more 18-year-old truck drivers. According to trucking companies, fewer trucks will lead to fewer accidents. However, safety advocates have identified a valid flaw in this argument and claim that increased trailer size has never lowered demand — larger trucks will simply allow trucking companies to deliver more product. Safety risks actually increase because larger trucks are harder to operate and are more likely to cause accidents.
A national shortage of truck drivers has led to the proposals for truckers to work longer hours and to allow 18-year-olds to drive trucks across state lines. Current federal regulations limit the number of hours a trucker can work to 60 every seven days, or 70 every eight days, at which point a truck driver must take two nights off before going back to work. The rest requirement was temporarily suspended in a 2014 House appropriations bill. If the suspension becomes permanent, drivers would be able to work as many as 82 consecutive hours before being required to rest.
When it comes to age, trucking companies are currently allowed to hire and train capable 18-year-olds in 49 states; however, these drivers can only operate within state lines. Drivers must be 21 to cross state borders or drive cross-country. The Senate has already approved a transportation authorization bill containing provisions that allow for 18-year-old interstate truckers. The movement is intended to decrease the trucking industry’s driver shortage, but could lead to more inexperienced drivers handling extremely dangerous vehicles on highways across America.
While none of these looser regulations are law yet, safety advocates are concerned the proposals will eventually be passed because they are part of larger bills. Bigger trucks, longer hours, and younger drivers will eventually lead to more accidents. And although truckers are required to have liability insurance, the $750,000 minimum isn’t enough to adequately compensate accident victims for their injuries or their families for wrongful death.
When trucking accidents occur, the rights of the victims are often pushed aside in favor of wealthy trucking companies. If this happens to you, contact experienced truck accident injury and wrongful death attorney Chris Faiella for experienced and aggressive legal representation.