With trucker rest rule suspended, will serious Georgia accidents rise?

Atlanta accidents that involve large trucks often have catastrophic consequences. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, large trucks played a role in about 10 percent of all fatal accidents in 2012. The same year, in 96 percent of fatal two-vehicle accidents that involved large trucks, passenger vehicle occupants suffered the fatal injuries.

The IIHS states that the risk of truck accidents occurring increases significantly when truck drivers are fatigued. To address this risk factor and reduce unnecessary truck accidents, federal regulations mandate daily and weekly rest periods for truckers. Unfortunately, under a recent regulation suspension, drowsy driving and associated serious truck accidents may increase.

Regulatory changes

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the regulation required truckers to schedule consecutive overnight rests each week. Specifically, during the "restart period" between workweeks, truckers had to complete two rest periods extending from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. Now, as the Marshfield News-Herald reports, truckers only need to log a 34-hour rest period. Consecutive overnight rests aren't mandatory during this period.

This change may result in more truck drivers sleeping during irregular hours and driving while fatigued. Additionally, truckers may start spending more hours on the road each week. The overnight rest requirement effectively prevented truckers from driving more than 70 hours during any given week. Now, depending on how drivers schedule their rest periods, they may exceed this limit when they begin the next workweek.

The suspension is effective until the FMCSA completes a study into the efficacy of the rule. At that point, the rule could be implemented again or eliminated. In the meantime, while the study is still pending, the risk of drowsy driving truck accidents may increase significantly.

Impaired drivers

Limited research suggests that the elimination of the mandatory overnight rest periods could make truckers more prone to drowsy driving. According to The New York Times, one study found that drivers who completed only one overnight rest per restart showed performance impairments. Specifically, these drivers struggled to stay in their lanes or maintain focus on driving.

Overall, the Department of Transportation estimates that 13 percent of large truck crashes involve driver fatigue. Still, drowsy driving is notoriously difficult to detect and prove after an accident occurs. Consequently, the number of accidents that truly involve this form of impairment may be much greater.

Legal recourse

Sadly, preventable and serious truck accidents may affect many people in Georgia this year. Data from the Georgia Governor's Office of Highway Safety shows that trucks contributed to 153 fatal collisions in the state in 2012. These accidents represented over 12 percent of all fatal collisions reported in Georgia that year.

When factors such as driver fatigue result in needless accidents, injuries or fatalities, victims may have legal recourse. Anyone who has been hurt in an accident involving a large truck should consider discussing legal remedies with an attorney. A personal injury attorney may be able to offer advice or assistance during the claim process.