When it comes to truck drivers not operating while tired, the responsibility is a two-way street. The driver must have the full authority to be able to call the shots when it is time for him or her to shut down due to fatigue. The motor carrier must adhere to the professional drivers’ request, without any repercussion from retaliation measures, such as dispatch forcing them to sit for three days or giving them low mileage and poor paying loads. When a truck driver is involved in an accident, particularly one that results in fatalities, it is major headline news bringing the spotlight on the driver and the cause often being fatigue. The spotlight needs to be more on the trucking company and questions asked as to why the driver was operating under such conditions.
It’s time we stop dancing around the facts of why these terrible incidents occur. Nearly every trucker I know will explain to dispatch that they are too tired to pull a load that they have just been given. We all know that many dispatchers will whine and plead with the driver that the “load has to get there” and they are the only driver available at that time and place. If the driver continues his or her stance on being too tired, dispatch will very often turn to the retaliation mode and shut the driver down by making them sit for days incurring no income, provide them with poor paying loads or at worse, find a way to dismiss the driver from their employment.
Professional truck drivers will often find themselves in a position where they must determine whether or not to make the forced run or risk losing the job and their means of support for their families. This scenario has been going on within the long-haul trucking industry since I can remember, and yet, with all the talk about driver and public safety from the FMCSA, the ATA and every other authoritative figure, no enforcement regulation has ever been designed or even addressed in regards to the responsibility of the motor carrier for bringing an end to this forced dispatching and retaliation against drivers who are only doing what they should do legally . . . if truck drivers feel they are too tired to run a load, they should have the right to say “No” and be allowed to rest without the fear of retaliation. I have known many drivers who went ahead and took the load, ended up in an accident due to fatigue, and when they made contact with dispatch again, the dispatcher responded with, “Well, you shouldn’t have taken the load if you were too tired.”
Motor carriers can get away with this, simply because nothing is ever recorded or written down as to what conversation between driver and dispatcher went down. Even with discussion between driver and dispatcher on such equipment as Qualcomm, etc., seldom does the driver have full access to the records. The fault, in OTR truck driving, will always come back on the driver. The dispatcher, load coordinator, dispatch supervisor or any company authority figure will never have the character or moral ethics to admit that the wrong-doing came from them . . . it is always the fault of the driver. Many times, they would rather risk endangering the life of the truck driver and the general public, all for the sake of getting the load picked up and delivered on time.
The FMCSA and the ATA need to step up and address this problem that many trucking companies have in regards to forcing a driver to continue running, even when the driver has expressed, within his or her legal rights, that they are too tired to drive and they need to get sleep and rest. It’s all about safety, right? Yesterday, the FMCSA extended the hours of service rule for truck drivers working on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Although situations such as this is a good way for drivers to make some much needed extra income, who would be held responsible if one of the drivers’ fell asleep at the wheel? The FMCSA? The ATA? The trucking company? No, I can guarantee you that it would be the truck driver.
The above image is from Houston, Texas where a driver fell asleep at the wheel, careening off the overpass. Why was the driver so tired that he or she fell asleep? Are there not regulations for truck drivers requiring them to be given the opportunity for rest? Of course there are, but these Federal Regulations mean nothing when the driver is faced with forced, retaliation measures from the motor carriers.
It appears to me that safety is the key, only when it mostly benefits the trucking companies and those trucking Associations and Organizations who have the power and political contacts to bring an end to this pushing of drivers who are at the collapsing edge of fatigue.
© 2010, Allen Smith. All rights reserved.