Jim Adler | The Tough, Smart Lawyer
By Jim Adler April 18, 2016

truck

The Federal Highway Administration and its laws affecting truckers have undergone changes over the years. Photo by Oliver Bildesheim (Flickr)

The Federal Highway Administration is the government entity that oversees all trucking regulations. The focus for the FHA over the past few years has been on altering the trucking laws and regulations that affect how many hours and when a trucker can work. Some of these truck-driving regulations have ripple effects throughout the industry that affect trucking companies and their customers. While trucker safety and highway safety are important issues, it appears that Congress and the FHA have difficulty seeing eye to eye on several important commercial truck regulations. As the FHA continues to research driver fatigue issues, Congress continues to hammer home its point that more needs to be done to improve trucking industry regulations.

The federal highway story starts in 1944 with the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1944. This was the bill that launched the building of the very first federal highway system, and it changed the way American commerce was conducted. The railroads were no longer the only way to ship goods over long distances, and it was not too long after the highways were built when the need for trucking regulations was realized. In 1952, Congress approved $25 million more through the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1952, which extended the building of interstate highways. In 1957, it was decided that all highways would subscribe to a numbering system that would make mapping the highways easier. After a scandal in 1959 that shook up how the FHA was run, Congress established a separate office for the Federal Highway Administration, and that office started taking on the task of creating trucking laws and regulations.

Many of the newer truck-driving regulations deal with the amount of hours a trucker can work. For a long time, there were no regulations in place, and there was a rash of highway accidents attributed to driver fatigue, which got the attention of the FHA. Initially, the FHA created an 82-hour work week that drivers still managed to manipulate. In 2013, the work hours for a trucker were reduced to a maximum of 70 hours per week. Along with these commercial truck regulations, the FHA also introduced the 34-hour rule, which meant that drivers had to take a 34-hour break in between work weeks. This rule immediately upset the ability for trucking companies to schedule drivers to meet the needs of clients, and it also meant that drivers had to work fewer hours. When truckers started demanding, and getting, higher pay for fewer hours worked, trucking companies started to complain to the FHA.

In 2014, Congress introduced a new bill that defunded the portions of the FHA that administered the 34-hour rule. The problem was that truckers were only allowed to start and finish their 34-hour break between the hours of 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. Congress essentially put a stop to this limitation by defunding portions of the FHA, and the trucking industry regulations that set specific times for starting and stopping the 34-hour break were suspended. As of early 2016, the suspension of the 34-hour break start/stop times has not been addressed. While Congress waits for the FHA to collect more information, truckers are setting their 34-hour breaks whenever they want. This is proving to be a bigger problem than the start/stop regulation, as some truckers are now trying to sandwich a short week in between two 70-hour weeks and disrupting trucking schedules even more.

It looks like working hours for truckers are going to be an issue that will take years to solve. In the meantime, if you are involved in an accident with a trucker on the open road, then be sure to contact an attorney with experience in handling trucking cases. If the driver who hit you was violating the 70-hour work week or 34-hour restart laws, then you could be entitled to compensation for your injuries.

Learn more about highway regulations and the FHA with these resources:

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