The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) pushed to establish the hours-of-service regulations as a means of combating the increasing incidents of driver fatigue that had led to many big truck accidents.
NTSB officials believed that instituting mandatory rest periods during the course of a commercial driver’s operating route would help lower driver fatigue and prevent truck wrecks caused by exhausted commercial drivers.
But some truck safety experts have criticized the NTSB for practicing tunnel vision by not acknowledging that the hours-of-service regulations may have some gaps that need to be addressed.
These gaps came to light after the massive 2014 big truck accident that involved a Walmart commercial vehicle that nearly killed comedian Tracy Morgan.
By the letter of the law, the truck driver who caused that accident had adhered to the hours-of-service regulations.
He had been driving for 13.5 hours of a 14-hour workday, and had taken his prescribed rest periods, but the issue was that he had not actually slept during his down time.
As a result, the driver had been awake for more than 28 hours prior to the truck accident, which was a major contributing factor to why he rear-ended Morgan’s vehicle.
In response to critics who called on the NTSB to find ways to monitor how drivers use their rest periods, NTSB Chairman Christopher A. Hart said:
“Hours-of-service rules cannot address what drivers do on their own time.”
Witherite agreed with this assessment, and believes that this gap will continue to plague truck carriers.
“You’re really talking about an honor system,” Witherite added. “So you have to rely on the honesty of truck drivers and hope that they take advantage of these rest periods and actually sleep, because downtime that doesn’t include sleep means that some of these drivers are still exhausted when they get back on the road. We saw that in the big Walmart truck wreck with Tracy Morgan, and I’m afraid we’re probably going to see it again in the near future.”