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Michigan lets propane truckers drive as long as they please

February 14, 2014 by Steven M. Gursten

An exemption for hours of service requirements for truck drivers hauling propane and heating oil in this horrible winter weather is a ticking time bomb

Picture this: A very tired trucker hauling a fully-loaded propane truck has been driving a 20-hour shift. It’s 2 degrees below zero, the highways are iced over, and the snow is starting to pour down again.

And he’s driving on the same roads as your family.

In Michigan, truckers hauling propane and heating oil can drive as many hours as they please this winter – legally.

And as a lawyer who has litigated too many cases involving truck drivers who drive past the federally regulated hours, this is a monumentally bad idea. Although there were many safer alternatives that still could have helped with propane and heating oil deliveries this terrible winter, Michigan has recently exempted “motor carriers and drivers transporting propane and heating oil within Michigan from the hour-of-service regulations and requirements…”

This means commercial truck drivers hauling propane and heating oil do not have to comply with the same federally regulated driving hours of service that all other commercial truck drivers must follow.

Now, thanks to Gov. Snyder, they can drive longer.

The Hours of Service rules for all other truckers allows those who reach the maximum 70 hours of driving within a week to resume if they rest for 34 consecutive hours. This includes at least two nights when their body clock demands sleep the most – from 1-5 a.m.

Exempting truckers who carry propane and heating oil is a terrible idea.  Propane trucks pose a much greater danger than drivers hauling other goods, like food or retail goods. When a propane truck crashes, explosions and fire can ensue and the scope of danger to others is greater.  In other words, more people can be horribly injured and killed.

But the reason for this propane and oil exception, according to the state, is a transportation energy emergency:

  • “Regional propane inventories are 33 percent below the five-year average, and approximately 40 percent below this time last year, causing produce allocations and restricted fill volumes for some customers.”
  • “A shift in the polar vortex has brought uncharacteristically severe winter weather, including sub zero temperatures, heavy snowfall, and reduced visibility resulting in hazardous road conditions and more frequent equipment failures for propane and heating oil transporters, causing drivers to reach maximum weekly driving and on-duty limits more quickly than normal.”

Why would the Governor think it’s okay to let these truckers drive past the hours of service, which are set in place to ensure truckers receive adequate rest to make their trips safely?

Combine that with the horrendous winter weather — acknowledged by the state in its exemption order —  and that makes the likelihood of a propane truck crash even higher.

Now we will have fatigued drivers hauling propane trailers on icy and snowy roads in Michigan. Literally, ticking time bombs.

Consider these deadly 2013 truck accidents involving propane trucks:

  • On August 31, 2013 in Escalon, California, a man died after a fuel tanker transporting propane collided with another truck and the tanker exploded after impact.  The resulting flames from the propane explosion also ignited a nearby field.
  • On May 7, 2013 in the community of San Pedro Xalostoc, Mexico, 24 people died when a semi-truck pulling two propane trailers crashed and exploded. The explosion and blaze set nearby homes on fire killing 24 people, burned 36 people, 40 homes damaged, and 30 cars damaged.
  • On March 26, 2013, near Willisville, Illinois, two men died in a fiery crash which involved a semi-trailer hauling propane.

I’ve written about exempting propane and oil haulers for hours of services regulations on a national level. Doing so has actually made truck accidents the leading cause of deaths for the oil and gas truck drivers.

A New York Times article addresses the effects of fatigue on truck drivers, specifically oil and gas workers, who are dying at an alarming rate from truck accidents: Deadliest danger isn’t at the rig but on the road.

According to the article, over the past decade, more than 300 oil and gas workers were killed in highway truck crashes, which makes truck accident deaths the largest single cause of fatalities in the oil and gas industries.

The really upsetting part of this tragic statistic is that a large reason for these truck accident deaths is because the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (which sets federal truck laws), is allowing the oil and gas industry exemptions from mandatory safety rules, like Hours of Service, that all other commercial truck drivers must abide by.

Said the New York Times:

“Many of these deaths were due in part to oil field exemptions from highway safety rules that allow truckers to work longer hours than drivers in most other industries, according to safety and health experts… Many oil field truckers say… they are routinely used to pressure workers into driving after shifts that are 20 hours or longer.”

And now this is occurring in Michigan.

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