Early Returns On Rules To Combat Truck Driver Fatigue

Unsafe driving practices are not hard to identify. A drive of any length will likely reveal drivers using cell phones, tailgating, driving too fast and generally driving in an unsafe manner. Among commercial drivers, the pressure to engage in one particular form of dangerous driving can be substantial. Financial pressure can induce a truck driver to operate a semi while fatigued. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, 13 percent of large truck crashes involved a driver who was fatigued at the time of the accident. The government recently passed new rules to help combat driver fatigue among truck drivers. A new study shows that the rules might be improving road safety more than previous attempts to tackle the problem.

The latest rules regarding when and for how long drivers may operate their vehicles are intended to reduce fatigue. They limit truck drivers to a maximum average work week of 70 hours. In addition, drivers who have reached the 70-hour limit must rest for 34 consecutive hours. That 34-hour period must include two nights from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. Truck drivers are also required to take a half hour break sometime during the first 8 hours of a shift. Finally, drivers are not allowed to drive for more than 11 hours in a day or work for more than 14 hours.

In the study, data was collected from 106 truck drivers from January to July 2013 when the regulations became law. According to the data, drivers who took two consecutive periods from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. before restarting a new cycle were less likely to suffer fatigue or lapses in attention than drivers who did not get two such periods to rest. In addition, those drivers who got the two rest periods showed better lane positioning.

The regulations were hotly contested by some truck drivers. Critics claimed that the new regulations would force drivers to start their shifts during periods of heavier traffic. Many suggested that they started new cycles between 1 and 5 in the morning in order to avoid morning rush hour in heavily populated areas. Some truckers and trucking companies complained that further regulations will drive up costs, forcing some to turn to less experienced, less expensive drivers. The regulations passed despite these concerns because of the prevalence of fatigued driving on American roads.

No regulation will put a stop to fatigued driving entirely. Drivers can be compelled to stop driving for a period of time, but they cannot be forced to get adequate sleep. Part of the problem of combating fatigued driving is getting people to take the matter seriously. Many people who would never dream of getting behind the wheel while intoxicated are perfectly willing to drive while drowsy. More work needs to be done to convince truck drivers and all motor vehicle operators that driving while fatigued is an unacceptable risk.