By: Allen Smith
The recent fatal crash in New Jersey involving Wal-Mart truck driver, Kevin Roper has gained attention by anti-trucking and safety advocacy groups who believe that the industry still does not have enough regulations placed on drivers. Although everyone can agree this was a terrible tragedy and our thoughts and prayers are with all involved, far too many fail to understand that a large percentage of added regulations actually have an opposite effect on safety.
In the case of the Wal-Mart crash involving comedian Tracy Morgan, comments have been made by some, including safety advocacy groups, suggesting that the accident could have been avoided if the driver had been “properly rested.” They have gone so far as to say that the recent amendment passed by Senate Appropriations Committee would further jeopardize the safety of our nation’s highways. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Regulations are in place to address driver fatigue, yet it is impossible to implement a regulation that could control drivers’ individual and personal actions when off duty. Therefore, these kinds of statements are simply “attention grabbers” and hold no truth in any sort of actual problem-solving actions.
Before this tragic event took place, the amendment to suspend the current 34 hour-restart rule was voted upon by the Senate Appropriations Committee, giving the FMCSA further time to study the rule’s impact upon the industry as it is currently in place.
This amendment would affect the two restart provisions only, as listed below, and was brought up by Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) during a markup of the THUD bill, obtaining committee approval by a vote of 21-9.
The present driver HOS Rules state:
- May drive a maximum of 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty.
- May not drive beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty, following 10 consecutive hours off duty.
- May drive only if 8 hours or less have passed since end of driver’s last off-duty or sleeper berth period of at least 30 minutes.
In addition, current regulations pertaining to a “rest period” state that CMV drivers:
- May not drive after 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days. A driver may restart a 7/8 consecutive day period after taking 34 or more consecutive hours off duty. Must include two periods from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. home terminal time, and may only be used once per week, or 168 hours, measured from the beginning of the previous restart.
Again, the proposed amendment would only have an affect pertaining to the two restart provisions within the current FMCSA regulations. The amendment, in many eyes within the industry was added to indeed improve safety, as it would reduce congestion of trucks on the road between the hours of 1-5 A M.
Amending or adding additional regulations upon regulations is not the complete answer to improving highway safety. As I mentioned earlier, added regulations can actually have an opposite effect on safety. Case in point: the required 30 minute break.
As a driver who has worked 12-14 hour night shifts for the past eight years, it is always good to grab my “home load” and begin the finalization of my shift. During these hours, my body is accustomed to keep the adrenaline flowing and finally head homeward bound.
Due to the new 30 minute break rule, I will have my final load on and ready to go, but instead of being able to continue driving and finish my shift as I am physically accustomed to doing, I now must stop for 30 minutes. Within this 30 minute time-frame, the body naturally relaxes and the adrenaline subsides. Restarting 30 minutes later, I may now no longer be as “awake” as I was previously due to this “relaxing break.”
What were before an easy task ahead now can become much more difficult, removing further aspects of safety that were there before. This is just a small example of how adding “safety regulations” upon regulations can actually make the task of the driver a great deal more difficult. To clarify, the 30 minute break is not part of the 12 month restart amendment and will remain in place.
The continual efforts to add regulations upon regulations will have little or no beneficial effect on driver safety as long as the major causes of truck driver fatigue go ignored:
- Shipper and Receiver Detention Time running into driver HOS
- Lack of adequate and safe parking areas
- Forced Dispatch
- Entry-Level Driver Training Standards continue to be ignored by FMCSA
I believe it is all of our responsibility as trucking and truck driver advocates, to not let this tragic event, including the death of a much loved and admired comedian, Jimmy Mack, to go unnoticed. It is our obligation and opportunity at this time to stand up and explain to those who are fed exaggerated and misleading untruths, the real causes of the word “fatigue” for professional drivers.
© 2014, Allen Smith. All rights reserved.