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Trucking safety regulation changes still up in the air

Because they are so large and heavy, commercial truck crashes are extraordinarily destructive, especially when they involve a collision with a smaller vehicle.

Semitrailer accidents may be less common than other types of accidents on the nation's roads, but there are still many of them. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, there were 4,889 large trucks and buses involved in fatal accidents in 2017, the most recent year for which the FMCSA had available statistics. That number represented a 9% increase over the year before.

As part of its efforts to improve safety in trucking, the FMCSA issues regulations known as hours-of-service rules, which put limits on how many hours truck drivers may be behind the wheel before they must stop for a rest. The idea behind these rules is to limit the danger of truckers who are too fatigued to drive safely.

During the Obama administration, the FMCSA tightened its hours-of-service rules, but the industry was not happy with the result. Truck drivers are typically paid by the mile rather than by the hour, and so they felt that less time behind the wheel meant less money in their pockets. Meanwhile, their employers face stiff competition from other companies who are promising to deliver more goods, more quickly.

When the Trump administration came into office, the FMCSA promised to change the rules, but the process has been slow to develop. Industry watchers believe the FMCSA will loosen some of the hours of service rules, but may implement some new safety regulations, such as special, lower speed limits for commercial trucks.

Trucking regulations can play an important part in personal injury lawsuits involving truck accidents. In these cases, a negligent truck driver's employer may be found liable for its employee's negligent acts. If a trucking company is found to have violated safety regulations, it could strengthen the plaintiff's case.

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