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Brett Emison
Brett Emison
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Did You Know… Hours of Service Regulations Keep Truck Drivers On Duty Too Long?

9 comments

Hours of service regulations keep truckers on the road too longThe Hours of Service regulations (49 CFR Part 395) were changed this year, but still create a significant potential for accidents caused by tired or fatigued truckers. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, “the regulations are designed to continue the downward trend in truck fatalities and maintain motor carrier operational efficiencies.” But truck drivers can still be forced by their employers to operate a big rig for 14 consecutive hours and be within the bounds of the rule.

I’ve said time and again that the vast majority of truck drivers are responsible, safety-oriented professionals. However, a few bad apples can give an entire industry a bad reputation and can wreak irreparable harm on innocent families.

More often, otherwise safe and professional truck drivers are pushed by their companies to log more hours in less time over longer and longer stretches of highway. The system is stacked against truck drivers because the corporations that make millions off of the driver’s hard work shifts all of the burdens and risks onto the driver. Drivers are most frequently paid by the mile, not the hour. Thus, when there is highway congestion, road construction, bad weather or other delay, it is the driver that is penalized. The driver must work longer hours for the same pay and is sometimes pressured to "make up time."

These industry pressures too often lead to lapses in judgment and cutting corners on safety. The Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety estimated in a report that 5,000 fatalities occur every year in the U.S. due to trucking accidents.

Too many hours behind the wheel and lead to dangerous fatigue in truck drivers. The U.S. DOT published the Driver Fatigue and Altertness Study, which found that truck driver fatigue is the leading factor in heavy truck accidents. But safer restrictions on time behind the wheel are necessary if we’re really going to respond to the problem as a nation.

Medical research shows that most people require 7 ½ to 8 hours of sleep a day. But the Driver Fatigue and Alertness Study states that the average truck driver gets 4.8 hours of sleep. It goes without saying that this minimal amount of rest may lead to sleep deprivation and driver fatigue.

If safety regulators won’t help protect truck drivers and other motorists, the trucking companies need to do so. Their truck drivers are their most valuable company resource. If trucking companies won’t protect their drivers and others on the road, then they should be held accountable when safety lapses hurt others.

[More on Semi Truck Accidents]

(c) Copyright 2011 Brett A. Emison

9 Comments

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  1. dave frankowiak says:
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    I think your fatigue study is inaccurate and does not represent the average driver. Every driver i have talked to say they average at 6.5 to 7 hrs of sleep. Are the people doing this study just making it up as they go along. What fatigues us drivers more is the fact we can,t take a break for a nap because of the hours of service. If the hours get any shorter we will probably end up with more bad decisions as it puts pressure on us do get the same amount done in less time.

  2. PLF says:
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    How many hours of sleep does this Lawyer get before heading into the Courtroom? Does this affect decisions made that could have adverse effects on someones life or well being? Lets get to the REAL World. These reports that show the bad statistics…Do they consider the millions of miles and the thousands of hours that go by without an incident? Do they consider the fact that someone in a passenger vehicle might have caused the accident but that bit of information got left out? The Trucking industry is a very large portion of what makes this Country work. Regulations are needed and good to a point. When they start infringing on a persons ability to make an honest living something needs to be re-evaluated. The Company I work for is committed to safety and we do our best to follow all the regulations. All in all we are just trying to earn our paycheck. Why would you want to hinder me from that?

  3. Brett Emison says:
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    Dave and PLF — thanks for reading and for offering comments. Let me address a couple of your points:

    Dave — the reported statistics are not from “my” study. I didn’t make the numbers up. Rather, the driver fatigue study was performed by the US Department of Transportation. I have a provided a link to the study in the post above so you can verify the numbers for yourself.

    PLF — I hope I get plenty of sleep before I go into the courtroom. I know my senses, decision-making, and alertness are lessened when I am tired or fatigued. But when I walk into the courtroom, I’m not behind the wheel of an 80,000 pound truck. Reaction times slow when drivers are tired – it’s a physiological fact of life.

    I don’t want to take away your livelihood or hinder your ability to earn a paycheck. To the contrary, I want trucking companies to pay drivers more fairly rather than placing all of the risk of delays, late shipments, construction, and fatigue on their drivers. I want our truck drivers well paid and well rested.

    Thanks again for reading. You should also check out Truckie D (http://www.injuryboard.com/truckie-d/) here on Injury Board for trucking related safety articles from a truck driver’s perspective.

  4. Tom in Alaska says:
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    I am concerned that you are bunching all drivers into one mold. Most of our drivers are very safe. Most of the accidents our drivers are involved in are due to weather and other drivers. Our drivers, usually, do not deliver hazardous materials more than 10 miles from our storage area, yet they are lumped into the pile with all drivers, local, intra and inter-state. Most of their work is not behind the wheel, but still they are still considered driving for the whole shift. When they did their study, it was with 5 eastern states. When are they going to realize that we have such a diverse country and a one size fit all ruling will not work every where. Is there someplace I can go to get exemptions?

  5. Brett Emison says:
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    Tom — thanks for your comments. I agree that most truck drivers out there are safe professionals. What concerns me are company policies and regulations that require drivers to work long hours on little rest. Even the most careful professional may suffer an attention lapse when seriously fatigued.

  6. Tom in Alaska says:
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    Brett,
    I understand where you are coming from, there are companies that only look at the bottom line and push employees for profit. So we should punish everyone because of a few businesses like that. We did, on occasion, have our drivers pull extra duty when a barge would come in and needed unloaded, usually at night. Then the drivers would go and pull their regular shift of driving. It was not company policy to force them to do this, but if needed they would sometimes stretch the hours of service, it was actually good for morale. The drivers liked the overtime and we never asked them to do more than they could safely do. If I understand the new regs correctly, the driver after working a regular shift, gets off work at 5pm. He/She is called back in at midnight to pump off a fuel barge. He is off 7 hours. Now he cannot drive again until he has 10 hours consecutive hours off. So now we are down a driver for the next work shift. We are not a large company and do not have an infinite number of people to work. Is there a suggestion or are we just SOL, because of some less reputable company from the lower 48? I feel that this is something that the states should be running, not federal.

  7. Tom in Alaska says:
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    Brett,
    I understand where you are coming from, there are companies that only look at the bottom line and push employees for profit. So we should punish everyone because of a few businesses like that. We did, on occasion, have our drivers pull extra duty when a barge would come in and needed unloaded, usually at night. Then the drivers would go and pull their regular shift of driving. It was not company policy to force them to do this, but if needed they would sometimes stretch the hours of service, it was actually good for morale. The drivers liked the overtime and we never asked them to do more than they could safely do. If I understand the new regs correctly, the driver after working a regular shift, gets off work at 5pm. He/She is called back in at midnight to pump off a fuel barge. He is off 7 hours. Now he cannot drive again until he has 10 hours consecutive hours off. So now we are down a driver for the next work shift. We are not a large company and do not have an infinite number of people to work. Is there a suggestion or are we just SOL, because of some less reputable company from the lower 48? I feel that this is something that the states should be running, not federal.

  8. Brett Emison says:
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    You raise an interesting question. I’m not sure of an exception to the regulation, but perhaps one of our truck driver readers might have additional information.

    I, too, am a state’s rights advocate. However, I understand the need for their to be a minimum level of safety (a floor) otherwise there might be massive safety differences in driving between the states. Could you imagine the difficulty in motorists attempting to avoid a particular state because of lax safety rules?

  9. Tom in Alaska says:
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    Brett,
    Actually, no. It is hard to imagine, because to get here, they either have to go to Canada or be put on an Ocean barge. Sorry, yes I can imagine it, and I agree there should be a bottom floor, if you will. A minimum standard, but it should be more flexible. A one-size-fits-all will not work everywhere. There may not be a simple answer but it is just causing hardships and hard feelings here in AK, some of DOTs rules just don’t make sense here with only 5700 miles of road and some of that is not DOT regulated.