Trucking experts say rules in place to prevent accidents

Numerous federal regulations are in place to prevent tragedies similar to the fiery crash on I-88 in Aurora that killed a tollway worker and severely injured a state trooper, according to trucking experts.

Prosecutors allege that on a Sunday-to-Monday-night trip spanning Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois, truck driver Renato V. Velasquez slept for only 3½ hours and doctored his logs to make it appear otherwise.

“You just can't go take a nap for three hours and go drive again,” said Don Schaefer, executive vice president of the Mid-West Truckers Association, which represents more than 3,000 companies in the Midwest.

He said federal regulators have worked with the industry to force truck drivers to get rest. One such rule forbids truckers from driving more than 11 hours in a 14-hour period. The regulations say the truck drivers then must take 10 consecutive hours off before returning to duty.

Velasquez, 46, of Hanover Park, faces felony charges that include operating a commercial motor vehicle while fatigued or impaired, driving beyond the 14-hour rule and the 11-hour rule, and making a false report of record and duty status.

Matt Hart, executive director of the Illinois Trucking Association, said those regulations are in place to make sure truck drivers are safely delivering products.

“We think it's a good thing for truck drivers to have 10 hours off duty,” he said. “We think it's a good thing for drivers to be limited. We don't want drivers out there who are tired.”

To ensure compliance with the law, truck drivers and the companies they work for must keep driving logs that can be reviewed by state and federal authorities.

When asked what might motivate some drivers to work more than the maximum hours allowed, Schaefer said it could be a variety of reasons.

“Is it money? Do they want to run more miles so they can get paid more?” he said. “It could be that someone pressured somebody to take a load.”

However, Hart said trucking companies “that truly believe in safety” don't pressure their drivers to exceed the hours-of-service rules. “The hours-of-service rules are taken extremely seriously,” he said.

Schaefer said companies follow the rules because the last thing they want is an accident.

“If a company has an accident, its insurance rating goes to heck. Its safety rating goes to heck,” he said. “Companies can't stay in business if they're running into those types of situations.”

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Paul Michna/pmichna@dailyherald.comRenato V. Velasquez, center, was released on bail Wednesday from the Du page County jail in Wheaton.
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