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Did You Know… New Pilot and Semi Truck Driver Rest Rules Fall Short?


Pilot and Trucker Fatigue Rules Don't Go Far EnoughI have written before about truck driver and pilot fatigue. Tractor trailer driver and pilot fatigue has gone largely unnoticed in the media, but new rules for pilots and truckers have shed some new light on this danger.

Fatigue is a factor in far too many truck and plane crashes and is one of the greatest threats to transportation safety. Every year trucking or pilot fatigue contributes to thousands of crashes and deaths in the trucking and aviation industries.

According to a 2005 study, some 65% of truckers reported sometimes or often feeling drowsy while driving. Additionally, nearly 48% admitted to falling asleep behind the wheel of a semi-truck within the preceding year. Fatigue has also been blamed for more than two-dozen aviation accidents and more than 250 deaths in the past twenty years. Most recently, fatigue was a contributing factor in the Colgan Air flight 3407 accident in Buffalo, New York.

A recent editorial in USA Today claims that while the new rules offer some improvement over the previous rules (including a shorter duty day and longer rest periods for pilots and shorter work weeks and added breaks for truck drivers), the new transportation rules "fall short".

Watered Down Pilot Rest Rules

New Pilot Rest Rules Don't Go Far Enough For Safety When the FAA issued their Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) regarding the flight, duty and rest regulations, there was resistance from the airlines because, they argued, it “would cost a lot of money.” After the FAA missed their original deadline for the pilot rest rules of August 1, 2011, the Colgan 3407 victims’ families released a statement that "Unfortunately, we also know that at every turn the FAA faces tremendous pushback from stakeholders, particularly the airlines, which would like nothing better than to delay and water down these regulations as much as possible."

Additionally, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) sent a letter to then-FAA administrator Randy Babbit. In the letter Schumer wrote – "I know that there are efforts on the part of industry to weaken these rules by stalling their implementation and undercutting their intent… This is unacceptable."

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Despite Sen. Schumer’s warning, the airlines were successful in weakening and delaying the regulations. One of the major issues that was not addressed was the issue of commuting pilots, where pilots often travel, sometimes great distances (some 20% of pilots live more than 750 miles from their base), on the day (or night) before starting a trip. In response to the Colgan 3407 accident, Congress asked the National Research Council to perform a study on pilot commuting. When researchers requested information on the issue from the airlines, more than a dozen failed to respond. The NRC report concluded that pilot commuting may cause fatigue and endanger passenger safety, but there was not enough data to support creating new regulations.

The airlines were also successful in delaying implementation as the new rules do not take effect until January, 2014. As the USA Today article says – “Revamping schedules and, in some cases, union contracts shouldn't take two years.”

Cargo Pilots Exempt

Another interesting aspect of the rule is that cargo airlines, including FedEx and UPS are exempt from the new regulations. Cargo airlines do the bulk of their flying overnight in opposition to normal circadian rhythms, and fatigue is arguably an even bigger issue for these pilots. Presumably, the FAA exempted these airlines because they don’t carry people, but rather boxes. Cargo pilots are “outraged” and FedEx and UPS pilot unions have filed suit over the new rules.

Eleven Hour Truck Driving Limit Unsafe

For nearly seventy years, truck drivers were limited to 10 hours behind the wheel per day. That remained true until 2003 when the limit increased to 11 hours of driving in a driving window of up to 14 hours. The rule was changed despite the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) own assertion that "performance begins to degrade after the 8th hour on duty and increases geometrically during the 10th and 11th hours."

In the name of high equipment utilization, 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."

The new rest rules for truck drivers failed to address the eleven hour limit which was a major missed opportunity for increasing safety and quality of life for drivers.

[More from the Did You Know… Series]

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(c) Copyright 2012 Brett A. Emison

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  1. Maria Hernadez says:
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    Tell the White House that exempting cargo pilots from the regulation is unacceptable. Sign the petition at: https://wwws.whitehouse.gov/petitions/!/petition/direct-faa-mandate-all-cargo-airlines-comply-newly-established-flightcrew-member-duty-and-rest/1LB3x9Nd

  2. Paul says:
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    Why are other workers being overlooked and not being included in federal regulations as strict or stricter. Why are medical doctors nurses technicians allowed to work past 8 hours per day and only as much as 70 hours in 7 days with mandatory time off and they should have to keep a log that tracks their work habits at home also. Kinda like the log systems and rules that the truck drivers must keep. these people work in life and death decision making jobs. What about the police and security personnel the same requirements after all they do carry weapons and make life and death decisions. Don’t give me that these jobs train people to handle the work schedules because they are professionals, so are pilots and truck drivers. The same sleep and rest requirements should be the same for any job that interacts with the general public and could possibly cause injury or accidental deaths. If we are going to put forth rules and regulations of this sort we should cast a large enough net to capture as many occupations and actions as possible. Otherwise the laws and regulations are prejudicial.

  3. Truckie D says:
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    As I see it, we don’t need new regulations — we just need to enforce those that already exist.