Hours of service rules: obscure, but important for highway safety

Highway safety is an important issue in California. With hundreds of thousands of miles of road across the state serving more than 38 million people and 24 million licensed drivers, issues like distracted driving, vehicle safety equipment and road design and maintenance all can literally be the difference between life and death.

The regulation of many of these elements often occurs in obscure state and federal agencies. But simply because they are obscure does not make them unimportant. Unless you drive a truck or work in the trucking industry, you probably have never heard of "hours of service" regulations. These regulations control the number of hours a truck driver can work. They are complex and have been subject to intense opposition from the trucking industry for decades.

With the new presidential administration, it is likely that many within the trucking industry will begin a strong push to weaken the regulations currently in place. The existing regulations were begun in 2003 and were subject to litigation from the start. Modifications to the rules were made in 2011 and more litigation followed.

The current iteration of the rules was designed to ensure a driver is able to obtain sufficient rest to prevent them from driving while fatigued. Trucking companies and some drivers complain it limits their flexibility in deciding when to rest, but given the demands for quick deliveries, such "flexibility" is likely to be used to drive longer distances at the risk of drivers falling asleep at the wheel.

With a regulation-adverse administration anticipated, the number of truck crashes in California attributable to drowsy truck drivers could increase in the future.

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