Road Safety: When Mileage Means Money

Truckers Resisting Rules On Sleep, Despite Risks Of Drowsy Driving

Jad Mouawad and Elizabeth A. Harris
(The New York Times, June 17, 2014)

“For decades, federal authorities have tried to ensure that truck drivers get adequate rest. But in a business that lives by the clock, miles mean money. Commercial truck operators have resisted, arguing, in effect, that Washington cannot regulate sleep. But now sleep-deprived driving…has once again come to the fore, after the [high-profile]…accident involving [a]…truck driver [who]…had not slept in more than 24 hours. Drowsy driving is a leading cause of crashes and highway fatalities…In all, more than 30,000 people die on highways annually in the United States; crashes involving large trucks are responsible for one in seven of those deaths. Federal rules last year reduced the maximum workweek for truckers to 70 hours, from 82 hours. Drivers who hit this limit can start their workweek only after a mandatory 34-hour resting period. Under the new rules, this ‘restart’ must include two periods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., to allow drivers to rest at least two nights a week. Drivers cannot drive for more than 11 hours a day and must have a 30-minute break in their schedule…But the trucking industry has been battling to get the new nighttime-break regulations repealed…Safety investigators [however, say]…that sleepy or drowsy driving [is]…more common problem than most people think…But how extensive the problem is remains a matter of debate…The Department of Transportation [DOT] based its new rules on a lower estimate, saying it believes that fatigue-related causes accounted for 13 percent of all trucking accidents…Federal officials cautioned that fatigue was often underreported in crash investigations because truck drivers do not want to acknowledge being sleepy, lest they be seen as at fault.”
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