Fatigued truck drivers are a leading cause of accidents involving big rigs in Pennsylvania and around the country. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration restricts the amount of time that truck drivers can be behind the wheel before taking a mandatory break, and the federal agency has been involved in a long-running legal battle with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association over the introduction of electronic logging devices to keep track of how long drivers spend behind the wheel.
The paper records that drivers currently use to track their hours are notoriously easy to alter and can be destroyed in a crash, and the FMCSA first proposed the use of ELDs in a rule published in 2010. Congress has mandated that the federal agency protect truck drivers from harassment, and the OOIDA successfully challenged the FMCSA's rule on the grounds that it failed to meet this requirement. A revised version of the rule was published in December 2015, and once again the OOIDA mounted a legal challenge.
The OOIDA appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit after a lawsuit it filed on behalf of two truck drivers was dismissed. However, a panel of three federal judges agreed with the lower court's opinion that the FMCSA had done enough to meet Congressional harassment guidelines. The ruling was handed down on Oct. 31 and the revised ELD rule will go into effect in December 2017.
The damages awarded in semi truck accident lawsuits are sometimes significant, and trucking companies and their insurance providers tend to mount vigorous defenses when this kind of litigation is filed against them. Personal injury attorneys representing accident victims may study FMCSA violation records for signs that truck operators have routinely failed to meet federal safety regulations, and the use of ELDs to monitor driver hours will likely make these accounts more reflective of actual events.
Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, "Why We Care About Truck Driver Fatigue", Anthony Foxx, Dec. 8, 2014