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Understanding The Risks And Regulations Of U.S. Truck Driving

January 3, 2014
Understanding The Risks And Regulations Of U.S. Truck Driving

If you have purchased it from your local big box store or even small business merchant, chances are that product or good was delivered to you by a transport truck. While in North America we receive cargo shipments of goods from overseas, from the moment those containers land they are assigned and distributed by a fleet of logistics companies to ship them to your local merchants, organizations and even healthcare agencies such as hospitals and clinics.


A common phrase in the industry is “if you bought it, a truck brought it” and 69% of commercial freight activity in the United States is engaged through short or long haul trucking services.


To say that the trucking industry is an important aspect of the North American economy would be downscaling professional truckers. In short, we owe a lot to more than 3.5 million truck drivers in the United States alone. According to the American Trucking Association (ATA) about one in every fifteen American’s are employed by the trucking industry and in the December 12, 2013 press release” New Federal Data Again Highlights Trucking’s Critical Role to the Economy” the ATA outlines the critical role that truckers play in the economy.

The Commodity Flow Survey provides information regarding cartage distance, product niche and other insightful information on the goods that are processed nationwide by transport truck. Trucking remains a key service and central engine to our consumer goods economy, and the need to ship goods inland shows no sign of changing or slowing down.


With that many truckers on the road, what are the instances of unsafe driving and accidents? We are going to take a look at some of the statistics and discuss cause and effect for the promise.

Contributing Factors to Truck Driving Accidents

While extraneous factors such as weather and road condition can be contributing factors, one of the largest impediments to safe driving for transport truck operators is fatigue. Short haul truck drivers rarely face the same expectations and opportunity to push beyond normal thresholds for longer hours than the long haul drivers. It is the long haul drivers that are at the highest risk of operating their vehicle while fatigued, placing them at a high risk for collisions and injury.

What Needs to Change?

In August 2013, the United States Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) implemented new regulations to address some of the contributing factors to the high accident rate for transport truck drivers. While in the past the industry has provided the regulations, it has also relied partially on the ethics of the profession to avoid decisions that place vehicles and drivers in jeaprody. Within increasing pressures in the logistics sector (including increased cost competition and shortage of drivers in some areas) the risk for drivers has continued to escalate with some experts estimating more than 140,215,987,089 fatal and non-fatal accidents each year.


The new regulations enforced in 2013 will impact long haul drivers who are at the highest risk and directly addresses fatigue as a top risk factor. Drivers are no longer permitted to work longer than 70 hours per week (this was lowered from 82 hours per week as the maximum allowable operation time). Long haul drivers represent approximately 15% of employed truck drivers in the United States.


Another change in the United States Department of Transportation and the regulation of long haul truck drivers is a mandatory and documented break period. Once in every eight hour period a trucker is now required to take a thirty-minute break which must be documented. The FMCSA predicts that the new changes could prevent 1,400 crashes and over five hundred driver injuries each year and a savings of $280 million dollars in vehicle and property damage. An estimated $470 million will be saved each year in medical costs, rehabilitation and accident claims for drivers.


There is a penalty that outweighs the benefits of breaking the new guidelines in place. Cartage companies that knowingly permit drivers to exceed the 70 hour work week can be fined $11,000 per offense. Any driver found to be ignoring the new driving limits can be fined up to $2,750 for every offense according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).


Is this enough of a deterrent to trucking companies? While drivers may make a decision based on their personal assessment of ability to drive, many feel pressured by difficult expectations from employers and schedules. The larger fine for the trucking company is a message from the Federal Government directly to logistics companies and owners that the liability for safe driving rests with them as well (and not only the driver) when it comes to protecting public safety on the roads.

What Can Truckers Do to Ensure Safety and Avoid Injury

Some truckers feel that the rewards outweigh the risks when it comes to long haul schedules and ‘pushing the limits’ of extended work weeks. There is a lot of money to be made for the truck driver who can complete the route without issue, and many truckers feel that pressure both from an employer and from an economic perspective. One of the things that truckers need to be educated on is the severity of accidents involving trucks and other motor vehicles, and the life changing impact that it can have on not only livelihood back and spinal cord injuries can permanently end a career in driving) but also on the quality of life of the drive post-injury. Long term disability is common with more severe truck accidents.


Truckers can exercise their professional training and judgment when they are completing a long-haul schedule by:

1. Pulling over when driving weather is inclement or when operating the vehicle is not safe due to limited visibility hazardous ice, rain or other road conditions that may impair safety.

2. Observing the maximum number of driving hours per the regulation and ensuring frequent rest stops to improve alertness by avoiding fatigue. A well rested truck driver is a safe one.

3. Discuss safety concerns with your employer if you feel your schedule puts them or yourself at any undue risk.


The extent to which drivers are able to exercise their training and better judgment will determine how many critical or fatal accidents can be avoided each year.



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