"I want to make sure that the guy in the truck next to me, driving 60,000 pounds, is not going to run me over because he falls asleep."
Federal lawmakers want to put their hands in states' cookie jars when it comes to regulation of the trucking industry. Congress has introduced legislation that would preempt state rules on how long truck drivers can go before taking a break.
Currently, state law in California slants toward greater levels of safety, more so than federal standards: Truckers follow this state's employment law standard of 30-minute meal breaks every five hours and a 10-minute rest break every four hours.
"State rules would be preempted," as Mercury News reports, "by federal regulations that require only a 30-minute rest break after eight hours of driving."
A benefit to truck companies, but not truckers and other motorists
Falling asleep at the wheel on a 10- or 12-hour shift (or pushing the shift even longer than that) has long been a concern in terms of road and highway safety.
As per the quote at the top of this post, truckers drive big rigs that weigh thousands of pounds - usually the heaviest thing on the road, as compared to cars, SUVs, and motorcycles. In general, when big rigs and other large commercial vehicles collide with other motorists, it often ends in a tragic loss of life (or serious injury at the least).
That's the primary driver of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's hours-of-service rules, which impose limits on how long a trucker or other commercial driver can operate behind the wheel, and require that the driver keep an accurate logbook for compliance purposes.
Apparently Congress doesn't think that driving while sleepy or fatigued is that big a problem. The new federal rules (if passed) would give truckers just 30 minutes of break time for every eight hours of driving.
Mercury News quotes one trucker, who said that adequate rest was a "matter of life and death."