The Unintentional Risks of the National Emergency Declaration
Long-held safety measures for truckers are suspended for certain delivery items
Since 1938, long-haul truckers have been required to adhere to some form of safety controls regarding a maximum number of driving hours and a minimum level of off-duty hours over a set period of time. The chart below demonstrates the well-documented dangers from driver fatigue, along with the long-term results of these safety measures meant to keep all drivers safe. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), truckers who had driven for at least 12 hours without extended sleep were 86% more likely to crash than drivers who had been awake for less than 8 hours. Moreover, truckers who had driven more than 5 hours without a break were more than 2 times more likely to have an accident as those who drove less than 5 hours.
Source: The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which is a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation, made the unprecedented announcement earlier this week. Jim Mullen, who is the acting administrator of FMCSA, also stated that the department stands ready to take additional measures. The suspension marks the first time that the Federal government has issued a country-side exemption to the rule since the regulation was first enacted in 1938, although state-level exemptions have occasionally been decreed for natural disasters.
The reprieve is in effect until April 12 or until the end of the emergency. It will apply to all truckers who are transporting certain medical supplies and equipment related to treating the COVID-19 outbreak. Non-medical items may also be included, such as food for restocking where shortages may be occurring, masks, gloves, soaps, sanitizers and cleaning solutions. Under some circumstances, non-commercial drivers will also be exempt.
To what degree the waiver will help is uncertain since trucking of the final product is only one leg of the supply chain cycle. The decree is very specific on the types of goods that are exempt. It does not, for example, include the raw materials required to make the products. Even more troublesome are the widespread reports of extreme bottlenecks at warehouses where goods are offloaded. Similarly, the actual production of goods is problematic since many workers are staying home. All of these stages of the cycle may ultimately limit any benefit from the well-intentioned act.
During these frightening times, draconian measures may very well be needed to meet the needs of local communities and keep the public safe. However, it is equally important that every effort is made to ensure the public remains safe from the dangers that arise from removal of such safety standards. Declaration of a National Emergency, after all, does not change the fact that drivers are human and humans need sleep. Despite the good intentions of a driver, an accident resulting from extreme fatigue that kills or injures others and destroys the supplies will not do the targeted community any good. The concern is more troublesome when considering that the other parts of the supply chain cycle are unlikely to be able to pass through the time savings to the consumer.
While the public focuses on the spread of COVD-19 and families seek safety from exposure, we must remain aware that the measures that are being taken to protect us from the virus may also increase our risk of injury or death and that any measure taken should not be accepted as an excuse for reckless or negligent behavior. In other words, the prescriptive remedy should not cause more harm than the disease.
The Callahan Law Firm has been representing and caring for people and their families in serious injury cases for over 25 years. Michael Callahan is a passionate and dedicated practitioner who is Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Michael also is a member of the American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Texas Trial Lawyers Association (TTLA), the Houston Trial Lawyers Association (HTLA) and the Texas Bar Association. Michael holds a J.D. from the South Texas College of Law and is a graduate of the prestigious Trial Lawyers’ College, which was founded and is directed by Gerry Spence. Since 2011, Michael has also been an involved faculty member for the College, which accepts a very limited number of lawyers nationwide each year and is exclusively for lawyers who represent people. The College and its members are dedicated to educating and training lawyers who are committed to the jury system and to representing and obtaining justice for the individual.