There’s been a lot of negative talk about the latest Safety Regulations in the motor freight industry: they’re too strict, too many, too much. But what nobody seems to be talking about is that they’re saving lives.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, FMCSA, was founded in 2000 and has made several regulations concerning the safety of the motor freight industry. If you’re unfamiliar with them, here’s a short list of the major changes in the past couple of years:

  • CSA (Compliance, Safety, and Accountability): This is a Safety Monitoring System (SMS) implemented by the FMCSA to identify trucking companies that aren’t following current safety rules. The system collects data from roadside inspections, state crash reports, and the federal motor carrier census. It rates companies based on 7 categories: Unsafe Driving, Fatigued Drivers, Driver Fitness, Controlled Substances/Alcohol, Vehicle Maintenance, Cargo-related regulations, and Crash Indicators. The FMCSA makes all CSA scores available to the public at http://ai.fmcsa.dot.gov/sms. Enforcement Officials will intervene in any company that refuses to comply.
  • Knowledge Testing: As part of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), people seeking registration as motor carriers or freight forwarders and brokers will be tested on their knowledge of industry regulations and standards.
  • Hours of Service (HOS) Changes: Beginning in December 2011, these rules allow truckers to drive up to 70 hours a week, have a 30 minute break after every 8 hours of driving, and be off duty for at least 34 hours after working the maximum number of hours in a week (must include two periods between 1 a.m. to 5a.m.)
  • Electronic Logging Devices: These devices automatically log the time truckers are driving and where they are driving to help compliance with the new Hours of Service Changes.

Are these rules effective? It appears so. These regulations keep fatigued drivers off the road, test knowledge of safety rules, and ensure compliance with all regulations. These rules will save the lives of truckers and the public.

The FMCSA has been working hard to make trucking safer. According to a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, NHTSA, between 2000 and 2009 the number of large truck crashes dropped from 4,995 to 3,215 crashes. Keep in mind during that period about 2 million more trucks were registered and on the road. From 2007 through 2009, each year saw a significant decrease in the number of fatalities and injuries from large truck crashes.

The Hours of Service changes have been the most controversial, yet have the greatest safety potential. Truckers are angry because this limits driving time, pay, and can lengthen trips by numerous days. Previously, tired truckers had the option to rest or continue driving for 11 or 12+ hours to earn extra money. Now, tired truckers don’t have the option to keep driving. The point of the rule is to keep fatigued drivers off the road, and Electronic Logging Devices ensure it will.

In a 1997 Federal Highway Administration survey, 28% of drivers admitted to falling asleep at the wheel during the previous month. Things have certainly improved since the founding of the FMCSA in 2000, and it looks as if things will continue to improve. The FMCSA has historically admitted approximately 7% of fatal large truck crashes are directly related to driver fatigue (this stat came after admitting they initially reported 1.6% of fatal crashes was wrong). For perspective, 7% of crashes in 2009 would be a total of 225 fatalities from tired drivers.

It is impossible to tell for sure the impact that the Hours of Service changes will have, but it seems logical that keeping tired drivers off the road will reduce crashes and fatalities in the future.

We need alert, knowledgeable, and safe truck drivers on the road. All of the recent rule changes have great potential to improve safety in the trucking industry. These newest regulations will save the lives of the public and truckers alike.