The coronavirus pandemic has caused a significant rise in essential delivery services across the country, putting more trucks on the road and pushing drivers past safe driving limits.
COVID-19 Causes Relaxed Safety Regulations
Under normal circumstances, commercial truck drivers have restricted driving hours to promote safety, but the coronavirus pandemic has created changes in those restrictions. To provide needed relief to Americans during the COVID-19 crisis, the Trump Administration has suspended federal trucking safety regulations that mandate limited daily driving hours for commercial truckers.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) enforces strict regulations for the U.S. trucking industry. One of those regulations restricts a commercial truck driver from driving more than 11 hours within a 14-hour period and mandates rest stops and breaks. Regulations and enforced to prevent driver fatigue, a major problem within the trucking industry that causes thousands of trucking accidents seen by truck accident attorneys each year.
During a national crisis, law allows the president and state governors to issue emergency declarations when public health or safety is at risk. President Trump declared such an order to ensure faster transport and delivery of vital supplies like medical equipment, food supplies, and basic necessities for the public. With FMCSA regulations suspended, commercial truckers and delivery drivers are permitted to drive longer shifts and additional hours without restrictions.
Although COVID-19 business closures and stay-at-home orders have significantly decreased motor vehicle traffic, delivery drivers are out in droves. Semi-trucks transporting medical equipment and supplies to hospitals, refrigerated trucks delivering food items to grocery stores, and Amazon vans delivering essentials to homeowners are flooding highways and city streets.
With FMCSA safety regulations suspended, the trucking industry is concerned that long hours on the road and rushed deliveries may cause a rise in trucking accidents and injuries. Fatigue and sleep deprivation in commercial truckers is responsible for many truck crashes that result in fatalities. According to FMCSA Large Truck Crash Studies, at least 13 percent of commercial truck drivers are fatigued at the time of a crash.
The study notes that truck driver fatigue and drowsy driving are commonly caused from long hours on the road, inadequate sleep and rest, physical and/or mental exertion, and drugs and medications. To prevent fatigue and drowsy driving accidents, FMCSA regulations restrict commercial truck drivers from driving more than 60 hours in one week or more than 70 hours in eight days. Suspended regulations during COVID-19 pose increased accident risks for truckers.