Change in Regulations Could Put More Tired Truckers on the Road

Posted at: 06/10/2014 10:17 PM
Updated at: 06/10/2014 11:42 PM
By: Jenna Lohse

(ABC 6 News) -- A crash that severely injured Tracy Morgan and killed another comedian is drawing attention to the dangers of tired truckers. The crash happened just as the trucking industry and its allies in Congress are looking to roll back safety rules on drivers' work schedules.

A proposed change to federal regulations would let drivers put in as many as 82 hours a week behind the wheel.

"We've all been driving and felt sleepy and needed to take a nap,” said Truck Driver, Lonnie Blackwell.

Like many truck drivers, Lonnie Blackwell gets paid by the mile. He says some of the federal regulations in place are a bit counterproductive. “The way the rules are, once you start driving or go on duty even if you’re not driving, you have a 14 hours clock that starts running and you can't shut it off once it starts,” said Blackwell.

Lonnie says this discourages drivers from taking a nap when feeling drowsy.

"There's drivers out there I know that'll stop 4 or 5 hours and log a 10 hour break and get going back down the road and it's just not safe,” said Truck Driver, Chris Graham.

Currently federal law caps drivers at working a maximum of 70 hours a week, that's decreased from the previous rule of 82 hours. Last week, a U.S. Senate Committee passed an amendment that would weaken federal truck safety rules, by suspending a requirement that truck drivers rest for at least 34 consecutive hours before beginning their next work week.

This comes just days before a deadly accident over the weekend that left comedian Tracy Morgan in the hospital. A Walmart truck, going way too fast swerves and hits Morgan’s limo overturning it. Prosecutors say the truck driver who caused the accident may not have slept in more than 24 hours. Bringing new attention to the rising number in big rig crashes. There was 317,000 crashes in 2012 alone and driving fatigue is said to be a leading factor.

"I think anytime you haven't gotten enough sleep you're not as alert as you otherwise might be,” said Blackwell.

The regulation change is part of a broader National Transportation Spending Bill in the Senate right now. It's only passed a committee and would still need to make it through a full House and Senate vote before heading to President Obama.