The Trucking Industry: Rolling Over Safety Concerns

A trucking industry lobbying group is suing the Department of Transportation in an effort to force the agency to issue regulations related to limitations on truckers' driving time.

If the American Trucking Associations prevails, the federal department would be compelled to issue rules describing the documents trucking companies would need to maintain in order to prove that employees are complying with federal rules limiting driving time.

The Federal Motor Carrier Administration is currently in the process of evaluating its Hours of Service (HOS) regulations. Since 2003, HOS regulations have allowed truckers to spend 11 consecutive hours behind the wheel and 77 hours per week. Safety advocates and driver unions, among others, are fighting to reduce the number of hours truck drivers can spend on the road per day and per week.

It's no secret that truck driver fatigue plays a major role in traffic safety. Research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that 52 percent of single-vehicle accidents involving heavy trucks were related to fatigue. The NHTSA has also estimated that approximately 50 percent of long-haul drivers have fallen asleep while driving their trucks that can weigh up to 80,000 pounds.

The trucking industry is currently lobbying for an easing of regulations on truck size and weight, arguing that trucks now restricted to 80,000 pounds be allowed to weigh up to 97,000 pounds, an increase of nearly 20 percent. The industry argues that bigger, longer, heavier trucks will increase safety - a counterintuitive claim vigorously disputed by safety experts.

Opponents of the proposed size increase say the larger trucks would be more difficult to steer and take longer to stop, causing more rollover accidents, more deaths and more damage to roads and infrastructure.

The federal government says each year more than 5,000 people are killed and more than 100,000 injured in trucking accidents. Texas leads the nation in truck fatalities, with more than 400 people killed annually in accidents involving 18-wheelers.

A recent analysis by a Dallas TV station of over 12,000 truck accidents over the past five years showed that the deadliest stretch of interstate highway in the state is south of Dallas on I-20 between Benbrook and Balch Springs, where 14 people were killed.

The Truck Safety Coalition says a truck at the current legal limit of 80,000 pounds is 50 percent more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than a truck weighing 50,000 to 65,000 pounds.

With drivers allowed to spend 77 hours per week behind the wheel of these enormous vehicles, safety advocates fear a surge in truck-related fatalities and injuries if the trucking industry is allowed to roll out even bigger carriers.