AAA aims to prevent truck crashes by attacking driver fatigue

We would all like to see safety improvements on our roadways, and a big part of that involves helping commercial truck drivers handle their rigs responsibly. With enormous pressure to get loads where they're going at the least possible cost and the greatest possible speed, truckers often find it difficult to take sufficient breaks. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulates the number of hours truckers can work, but regulating hours of service must take industry needs into account.

How can we reach the best balance between profitability and safety?

AAA, the not-for-profit safe driving organization, is among those who make a continual effort to help. When the FMCSA's hours of service rule for commercial truckers was last updated in 2002, it was after AAA worked tirelessly for to help the agency get it right.

According to the FMCSA, the 2002 rule change has already resulted in an estimated 75 lives saved and perhaps 1,326 injuries in trucking accidents caused by driver fatigue. Those lives and futures saved, along with property damage prevented, save the American economy approximately $628 million each year.

The latest updates to the hours of service rule went into effect in 2012, with AAA continuing to lobby in the interest of safety. At the same time, the group took pains to acknowledge the responsibility drivers have to be responsible and avoid endangering others on the road, and it urged the FMCSA to adopt a rule based soundly on scientific research and accounting for the economic issues involved.

Specifically, the safety group supports more limited driving windows for commercial drivers, including changes that would classify some hours spent parked as off-duty time even if the driver remains in the truck.

The purpose of the hours of service rule is to provide enough consecutive off-duty hours for drivers to rest and sleep. To accomplish that, there should be limited opportunity for those off-duty hours to be interrupted, or for the on-duty clock to be restarted in order to delay rest periods.

One proposed update intended to keep drivers from working the maximum of 60 or 70 hours week after week, has been put on hold. Drivers aren't allowed to work the maximum number of hours for more than eight days in a row, but drivers can continue doing so as long as they take an uninterrupted 34-hour "reset" break. The update would require that 34-hour break to include at least two periods from 1 a.m. to 4 a.m. and would have limited how often drivers could use a reset break. Enforcement of that rule has been suspended by Congress pending further study.