As a southern Illinois semi truck crash attorney, I was already a fan of the new hours of service rules from the federal government. These are rules limiting how long truck drivers can drive for one day and in one week, mandating a rest period and a “weekend” that can be taken on a flexible schedule. The new, more restrictive hours of service went into effect Monday. And as CNBC reported, some truck drivers are displeased by the new restrictions. That change came just after the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration determined that trucker Andrew Bokelman of Wisconsin was breaking HOS rules when he fell asleep at the wheel. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, this caused a crash that killed Illinois state trooper James Sauter, 28, of Vernon Hills.
The March crash took place in Cook County at 11:03 p.m. According to the article, Bokelman was hired in December, not long after finishing truck driving school. Investigators said he worked from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. at Barrett Moving and Storage, an agent of United Van Lines, loading and unloading trucks. The trailer involved in the crash, which is fitted with a GPS device, was moved within the city of Waukesha, Wisconsin, between 7:15 and 7:35, and it left the city at 8:49. The next time it stopped was in Cook County, Illinois, where Bokelman fell asleep at the wheel and veered out of his lane into Sauter’s parked police vehicle, causing a fiery crash. Sauter was 28. The federal agency has fined Bokelman $2,500 and United $5,500. The Illinois State Police told the newspaper that an investigation is still taking place.
The FMCSA determined that Bokelman broke a regulation requiring him to rest after 14 hours on duty. That 14-hour maximum hasn’t changed with the new hours of service rules, effective July 1. But the new HOS rules will also require truck drivers to take a 30-minute break during their first eight hours of service, and cannot go over 70 hours per week—a substantial change from the prior 82-hour maximum. The truck driver’s “weekend,” really a 34-hour break that can happen anytime during the week, may now happen only once per week and include two stretches that cover 1 to 5 a.m. The FMCSA says these changes are driven by data showing that drivers who don’t get these breaks are more fatigued and less safe. The trucking industry says it’s already very safe, pointing to more than a decade of falling truck fatalities—but the FMCSA says the new rules could, statistically, save 19 more lives per year and prevent 560 injuries.
As a Missouri tractor-trailer accident lawyer, I must agree that saving 19 lives a year is worth inconveniencing the trucking industry a little. Trucking companies and professional associations dislike these rules because they stand in the way of profit. Trucking companies lose money when deliveries are late, and they structure their compensation to truck drivers accordingly. As a result, a 30-minute break, and the lack of flexibility in a strict 34-hour weekend, represent lost money. But as the Illinois crash shows, driving fatigued poses a serious threat to everyone around the fatigued truck driver. A large truck is many times the size and weight of a passenger car, and when they crash, the driver in the smaller car risks very serious injuries. I see these often in my work as a St. Louis big rig accident attorney, which is why I agree with the FMCSA that more safety is worthwhile.
If you suffered a serious injury or lost a loved one in a crash with a large truck, don’t wait to call Carey, Danis & Lowe to discuss how we can help. You can send us an email or call 1-877-678-3400.
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