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EDITORIAL: Don't ease limits on truck-driving hours

EDITORIAL: Don't ease limits on truck-driving hours

Trump administration rollbacks on 'fatigued driving' would make highways less safe
EDITORIAL: Don't ease limits on truck-driving hours
Fatal tractor-trailer crash on Northway in Glens Falls, on Wednesday, July 17, 2019.
Photographer: Erica Miller

The surviving tractor-trailer driver in last week’s fatal collision on the Northway near Glens Falls was 2.1 miles past the new Adirondacks Welcome Center near Exit 18 and just 9.4 miles past the big truck stop off Exit 16 in Wilton.

At any time right before the crash, he could have pulled off and gotten a nap or a cup of coffee. But he didn’t.

He kept on driving until he nodded off and crashed his truck off the right lane of the highway, setting up the fiery collision minutes later that killed a Pennsylvania trucker.

The driver will likely get some kind of penalty, probably for lying to the police about falling asleep in the first place. 

We don’t know yet if he violated any laws limiting how far truck drivers can travel before being required to pull off.

But one thing is clear, if he’s telling the truth: He drove a few miles too long while being too tired, and the result was that someone died.

Fatigued driving is a major problem in this country. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has deemed it a “pervasive problem,” noting that 13 percent of fatal crashes involve drivers who’ve fallen asleep.

In 2017, among the nearly 4,700 fatal crashes involving large trucks (up 10% from 2016), 60 involved drivers identified as “asleep or fatigued,” according to the NTSB — a statistic they believe is heavily underreported to police.

The last thing the traveling public needs is for the federal government to relax its standards on how long truck drivers can remain on the road.

But that’s exactly what the Trump Administration, in its zeal to deregulate, is proposing to do in the wake of intense lobbying from the trucking industry.

Already, the administration has rolled back, withdrawn or revoked about a dozen existing or proposed truck-safety regulations, according to a PBS report.

Ignoring its own safety board’s goal to reduce fatigued driving, the administration is reconsidering hours-of-service rules that limit long-haul drivers to 11 hours of driving over a 14-hour period after being off for 10 consecutive hours.

Among the changes being sought by the trucking industry are extending the 14-hour period to 17 hours to allow for a three-hour stoppage for bad weather, unanticipated traffic delays and delays in loading cargo. Truckers also want a mandatory 30-minute break eliminated.

Safety advocates say any changes would allow truckers to drive even longer without resting, and therefore make them more prone to falling asleep at the wheel and killing someone. They say there’s no guarantee drivers would stop for three hours or that eliminating the break wouldn’t result in more tired drivers.

The strict regulations, safety advocates say, already allow drivers enough time on the road. And they say the strict laws and their harsh punishments actually protect long-haul drivers from being pressured by their employers to drive even further.

We’ve seen up close in our own area what happens when truck drivers become too tired to drive.

Weakening federal regulations will only make us all less safe.

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