Proposed trucking regulation changes could have deadly effects

Truck crashes have been on the rise in recent years, and legislation that would loosen various industry regulations could lead to even more accidents.

In 2012, more than 10,000 large truck crashes occurred in New York, according to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles. Over 3,500 of these crashes resulted in injuries, and 83 claimed people's lives. Troublingly, these high accident rates may reflect a national uptick in large truck crashes. According to The Baltimore Sun, these accidents now kill 4,000 people and injure another 10,000 each year.

Given these figures, it would be reasonable to expect a push for stricter trucking industry regulations. Unfortunately, federal lawmakers have instead been considering changes that could make truck accidents more likely. If these initiatives succeed, drivers in New York City could soon face the following dangerous changes.

New trailer size rules

One proposal would allow trucks to pull two trailers that are each 33 feet long, even in states with laws that establish different maximum trailer lengths. This new limit significantly exceeds the ones observed in most states, including New York, where single twin trailers cannot surpass 28.5 feet. This change may create a greater risk of accidents, since longer trailers may be heavier and more prone to loss of traction.

Fewer rest requirements

Another proposal would make the temporary suspension of a truck driver rest period rule permanent. Before this rule was suspended, truck drivers had to log two overnight rests during a reset period at the end of each workweek. These overnight rests had to fall between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. This rule helped ensure that truck drivers received nighttime sleep, and it also limited them to working 70-hour weeks.

With the rule suspended, truckers only need to log one overnight rest per reset period. As a result, truck drivers can theoretically work up to 82 hours per week. Safety advocates worry that, as truckers work more hours and catch less overnight sleep, drowsy driving accidents will increase.

Outdated insurance standards

According to The Baltimore Sun, other legislation would prevent federal lawmakers from changing the insurance requirements that trucking companies must meet. The current mandatory minimum insurance amounts haven't been revisited since 1985. Given the increase in medical and living costs, this coverage might not offer adequate compensation to victims of catastrophic accidents.

This is especially unfortunate because trucking accidents are often the most severe motor vehicle accidents. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety states that large trucks can outweigh other vehicles by a factor of 30, which leaves passenger vehicle occupants at risk for injury or even death. Tragically, in 97 percent of fatal accidents that involved trucks and other vehicles in 2013, passenger vehicle occupants suffered the fatal injuries.

An ongoing threat

Even if these proposals don't succeed, large truck accidents remain a serious cause for concern. The New York Times reports that deadly truck crashes increased 17 percent from 2009 to 2013. In 2013, these vehicles contributed disproportionately to roadway fatalities, as the following figures show:

  • Large trucks drove only 9 percent of all miles traveled that year.
  • Despite their relatively low prevalence, large trucks were involved in one out of eight fatal crashes.
  • Large trucks also played a role in one-quarter of fatal work zone accidents.

Unless lawmakers make significant, stricter policy changes, these accidents may continue occurring at similar rates and harming thousands of people in New York each year.

Even if motorists aren't being adequately protected against these accidents, they may have legal recourse in the event that one occurs. As soon as possible after an accident, victims should consider discussing the possibility of seeking compensation with a truck accident attorney.