Dangerous Trucker Fatigue: What Can Be Done about It
Friday, September 23, 2016By Richard Alexander
Driver fatigue is the leading cause of highway crashes. Imagine the horrific damage inflicted when a trucker falls asleep at the wheel. A trucker in Oklahoma crashed into a line of stopped cars on the Will Rogers Turnpike, killing 10 people. An investigation showed that he never touched the brake pedal or tried to steer clear. The National Transportation Safety Board “blamed fatigue for the fatal crash along with acute sleep loss, shift work schedule and mild sleep apnea.”
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) addresses the danger of driver fatigue by placing hours of service requirements on drivers in the trucking industry. These requirements limit the number of hours a driver may drive to 11 hours per day and require a 30-minute rest stop no later than eight hours after starting the trip. In addition, after reaching 70 hours of driving, the driver must rest for 34 hours before starting again.
According to a post by United States Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, research shows that "long work hours, without sufficient recovery time, lead to reduced sleep and chronic fatigue." This causes drivers to be less alert and slower to react. Worse, drivers often do not accurately assess their level of fatigue. The best play is to combat fatigue by observing established limitations on continuous driving time. You may read more about the adverse effects of drowsy driving here.
Even though federal regulations are established for the safety of the driving public as well as the truck drivers themselves, the trucking industry opposed the most recent revisions that lowered the driving time between rest periods from 82 to 70. According to a New York Times article, Bill Graves, president of the American Trucking Associations, said "[m]any of the anti-truck groups have mischaracterized the extent to which fatigue is a part of our traffic problem."
Safety advocates, however, aren't buying the industry's claims. In the same article, A.P. Hersman, the president of the National Safety Council, commented that fatigue estimates would likely be underreported “because the dead don't speak and the living often plead the Fifth, especially if they are facing criminal charges."
The FMCSA has also adopted a new rule that requires the trucking industry to use electronic logging devices (ELD) for the documentation of hours of service. The devices will improve compliance by automatically recording driving time, monitoring engine hours, miles driven, and geographic location.