There are perhaps few things more dangerous on our highways than a sleepy commercial truck driver. In order to address this, the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration (FMCSA) adopts “hours of service” rules for drivers of commercial trucks, semis, and big-rigs. However, a number of non-profit, public-interest groups say that the rules are ineffective and simply do not do enough to keep sleepy drivers off the roads. Such groups include the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Public Citizen, the Truck Safety Coalition, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The hours of service rules are laid out in 49 C.F.R. Part 395, which are easily accessible through the FMCSA’s website, or here. Since the FMCSA first revised the rules in 2003, other changes have been made based on legal challenges from interest groups and court rulings. The most recent news, however, has included word that the FMCSA would adopt the 2007 interim rule as final, effective at the beginning of this year.
The interim – and now final – rule preserved the basic framework of the regulations, which allows 11 hours of driving within a 14 hour work shift. Those 11 hours are supposed to be followed by 10 off-duty hours. Drivers’ hours are limited by rules that cap the total number of permissible drive-hours in a week to 60 (in seven days), but in an eight day period a worker can drive up to 70 hours. The clock on these driving hours can be reset by a 34 consecutive off-duty hours. While the 10 and 14 hour limitations were meant to reduce fatigue, they may also have impacted the FMCSA’s decision to allow operational flexibility in increased drive hours. The rules are supposedly based on scientific data about fatigue rates for drivers, but seem to neglect that when commercial truckers are paid over-time and for distance travelled, there is an incentive to violate these hour requirements.
Reports and statistics about tired truckers are often present in the media, but interest groups continue to struggle with federal regulations. The New York Times has previously blamed the Bush administration’s failure to create tighter regulations in this area and provided startling statistics about the number of trucks involved in accidents – and the deaths they’ve caused. For this reason, many have become proponents of Blue LEDs to reset truckers’ body-clocks and help prevent accidents, or black-boxes, that would track hours on the road and prevent the violation of hours of service regulations, and possibly even act as an inter-lock device that prevents the engine from running if too many hours have been recorded on the road. These devices could not only prevent hours of service violations, but record events during an accident – much like the black boxes in airplanes do. The last National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration statistics showed that over 100,000 accidents are caused by sleep deprivation each year – and with the heavy loads and size of commercial trucks, it is no wonder that there is so much cause for concern. Public Citizen’s recent past president, Joan Claybrook, was heard on National Public Radio just yesterday addressing the issue, and promises that that group and others will pay close attention to how the FMCSA’s current hours of service regulations do – or do not effect – the number of trucking accidents occurring each year because of sleepy drivers.