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DOT hours of service rules to be relaxed

The number of commercial vehicles involved in fatal accidents in North Carolina and around the country rose by a worrying 10% in 2017, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration figures, and 83% of the 4,237 deadly crashes occurred between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. Accident investigators only determined that 60 of the truck drivers involved were asleep or dangerously fatigued when they crashed, but the NHTSA believes that drowsy driving is an underreported problem in the logistics sector.

Federal hours of service regulations were put into place to address the issue, but trade groups, including the American Trucking Association, claim that they do little to protect road users. These organizations have been lobbying Congress to relax the rules, and recent media reports suggest that their arguments have been persuasive.

The Department of Transportation is said to be preparing changes that would allow truck drivers to spend more time on the road before rest becomes mandatory, but the reports do not contain specific details about how the regulations will be revised. The current rules limit shifts to 14 hours during which truck drivers can spend no more than 11 hours behind the wheel. Commercial vehicle drivers must also rest for at least 30 minutes after driving for eight hours.

Fatigued tractor-trailer drivers rarely face criminal charges after being involved in serious truck crashes because drowsy driving is difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, but the standard of proof is not as strict in civil court. Experienced personal injury attorneys must only convince juries that their arguments are more likely true than not. Evidence that could establish negligence in drowsy driving cases includes hours of service logs, a record of prior violations and information recovered from onboard data recorders that reveal no emergency actions were taken in the moments leading up to a collision.

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