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New rules aimed at curbing truck driver fatigue

As a region nestled within the busy corridors of the mid-Atlantic, northern Virginia has long served as a hub for transportation. Commuters in the Manassas area are used to driving alongside large semi trucks as they go about their daily business. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, though, the presence of these massive vehicles on the roads can sometimes prove highly dangerous. The DOT reports that over 3,000 people lose their lives each year as a result of either a truck accident or a bus crash. The DOT also reports that 13 percent of those fatalities were a result of truck driver fatigue.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is hoping to lower these figures via new rules for truck drivers. Those who make a living driving big rigs, tractor trailers and other commercial vehicles must already obey several layers of regulations, of course, such as earning and maintaining a commercial driver's license. However, given the alarming levels of truck accidents and related deaths, it is little surprise that the industry is hoping to improve safety.

The new rules include a mandatory 30-minute break that must occur within the driver's first eight hours behind the wheel. Another provision limits the total number of weekly hours truck drivers can be on the road; that limit is now set at 70 hours. The new law also requires drivers to take a 34-hour off-duty period, or "restart," once a week. According to the head of the FMCSA, the various elements in the new rules are meant to combat chronic fatigue and the dangers it can pose to other drivers on the road.

While these new regulations have a clear mission, some believe truckers will still push themselves to go further and faster in the hopes of a bigger paycheck. And just one drowsy driver can wreak major havoc, given the size difference between semi trucks and most personal vehicles. Even an alert truck driver has less ability to maneuver a big rig than the average driver of a car or SUV.

Unfortunately, truck accidents will still likely mar Virginia's interstates and highways, although one can hope the new regulations will mean some tragedies are averted. In the meantime, truck accident victims should be aware that legal resources exist to help with their physical, emotional and financial losses.

Source: NPR, "New rules put brakes on truck drivers' schedules," June 30, 2013

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