Recently passed federal bill may have mixed impacts on truck safety

Federal lawmakers recently declined a proposal to allow longer trucks while approving other changes that could raise the risk of truck accidents.

In recent years, large truck crashes have become a serious threat to drivers in Washington, D.C., and other parts of the U.S. Large truck accident fatalities jumped 17 percent from 2009 to 2013, and they have continued rising since then, according to The New York Times. One-eighth of all traffic deaths and one-quarter of all fatal work zone accidents now involve these commercial vehicles.

Troublingly, despite these trends, in the past year federal lawmakers have weighed several proposals that would relax the regulations affecting large trucks. Recently, Congress declined some of these proposals while passing others, which may have mixed effects on the ongoing rise in serious semi truck accidents.

Truck length increases denied

According to New Jersey Advance Media, one proposal would have allowed much longer double trailer rigs on the roads in Washington D.C. and all 50 states. The current length limitation observed in many states is 28 feet per trailer. Here in the District, according to the Department of Transportation, semitrailers cannot exceed a total length of 55 feet. The proposed legislation would have overridden any local limitations and allowed trucks to pull two 33-foot trailers and reach up to 85 feet in length.

Critics expressed concerns that these longer trucks, which have been compared to trains, could endanger motorists in various ways. According to The Lehigh Valley Times, these big rigs have larger blind spots, and they are more difficult to pass or merge with. They also need 22 more feet of stopping distance than truck trailers that consist of two 28-foot trailers. Considering these issues, the failure of this proposal might have a positive effect on overall roadway safety.

Potentially risky proposals approved

Unfortunately, the recently passed federal spending bill also contained two provisions that could place motorists in greater danger of large truck crashes. One of these provisions allows qualifying teenage truck drivers to cross state lines. The other requires the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to conduct ongoing research before reinstating its old hours-of-service rest rules.

Previously, teenage truck drivers were not allowed to cross state lines, according to KVOA News. However, under the bill, teens can do so if they were trained to drive in the military. Critics worry that this will lead to more accidents, since teens have been shown to have higher crash rates than other drivers.

The new bill also allows truckers to work longer hours with fewer rest periods until the FMCSA completes a study into the benefits of these rest periods. Previously, drivers had to complete two overnight rests during their 34-hour "restart periods" each week. Now, pending completion of the study, drivers only need to complete one overnight rest. As a result, drivers can now work up to 80 hours per week, and critics worry that truck driver fatigue may become a more prevalent problem.

Recourse for truck accident victims

Unfortunately, large truck crashes may harm many people in the District this year if past statistics are a reliable indicator. In 2012, the last year with data available, these accidents injured 804 people and claimed five people's lives, according to the DDOT. They were also the most common type of accident in the District aside from passenger vehicle accidents.

When these accidents happen as a result of unnecessary negligent behaviors, such as driver fatigue, victims may have legal recourse. To learn more about the available legal remedies, injury victims may benefit from discussing the situation with a truck accident attorney.