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Hours of service battles go on … and on and on

For nearly as long as I’ve been an attorney representing people hurt in tractor trailer accidents in Georgia, we have seen a running battle over the hours of service rules that are supposed to protect people from the dangers of truck driver fatigue.

Without reviewing the whole history (see this, this, this, this, this, this , this and this), let’s just say it hasn’t stopped.

Trucking industry organizations now say that the current rule — 11 hours driving / 14 hours on duty per day — has improved safety. For 2009, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recorded 3,380 fatalities in 2,987 truck-involved crashes, down from 4,245 fatalities and 3,754 truck-involved crashes reported in 2008. At the same time, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has reported that trucks traveled more than 288 billion miles in 2009, down from 310.7 billion in 2008. Industry advocates say that means the rate of truck-involved fatalities on U.S. highways fell to 1.17 per 100 million miles– down from a rate of 1.37 in 2008 for a 14% drop.

We all know that figures don’t lie, but they can be subject to manipulation. Before concluding that the current hours of service rule has actually caused an improvement in safety, it would be good to see a study that adequately takes into account multiple factors in addition to the rules change — changes in overall motor vehicle traffic in the economic slump, trucking miles, weather and road condition variables, etc.

Of course, in handling individual truck crash cases, and the resulting mayhem, we work with the rules as they are and don’t worry too much about what they ought to be.

Ken Shigley is an Atlanta, Georgia, trial attorney. He has been designated a “Super Lawyer” (Atlanta Magazine), one of the “Legal Elite” (Georgia Trend), and rated “AV Preeminent” by Martindale-Hubbell Legal Directory. He is author of Georgia Law of Torts: Trial Preparation & Practice (West, 2010), a Certified Civil Trial Attorney of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, and currently president-elect of the 42,000 member State Bar of Georgia. He has extensive experience in litigation and trial of cases involving serious personal injury, wrongful death, trucking accidents, automobile accidents, products liability, premises liability, and insurance. Mr. Shigley is a graduate of Furman University and Emory University Law School. This blog post is subject to our ethical disclaimer.