Crashes involving truck driver fatigue kill about 500 people annually. Studies have shown that nearly half of truck drivers have fallen asleep while driving, and about two out of three drive when they are tired.
To address this problem, there is a revised federal safety rule governing how many hours a trucker may spend on the road in given periods of time. How effective the modified rule will be in preventing North Carolina truck accidents caused by drowsy driving remains to be seen.
Hours-of-Service Rule Revision
In 2003, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration set the maximum daily driving time at 11 hours, and that standard remains unchanged in a newly enacted revision to that rule. Several advocacy groups expressed strong disapproval of the 11-hour limit, claiming that a ten-hour limit would be far safer. One group, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, contended that 11 hours of driving led to the greatest risk of a truck driver becoming involved in a crash.
There is an added wrinkle in the new rule governing daily hours of service that officials hope will cut down on driver fatigue. While a driver can put in 11 hours a day, the driver must not be on the road for more than eight continuous hours. The driver must get off the road to rest for at least half an hour before starting out again. The new rule doesn’t go into effect until mid-2013.
Back in 2003, truck safety advocates overwhelmingly supported the FMCSA’s change in the standards for weekly hours of service. At that time, the rule allowed commercial drivers behind the wheel for 82 hours over seven days. The new rule sets the weekly limit at 70 hours.
To reset the clock between the end of one week and the beginning of the next for purposes of enforcing this limit, a driver can move between one week and the next only after spending 34 consecutive hours without driving. The 34-hour reset requirement is a carryover from the old rule, but the new rule allows a driver to use the 34-hour reset only once during a seven-day period.
Another feature of the new rule is that drivers working the full 70 hours a week must take at least two of their rest periods between 1:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. The FMCSA set this requirement because of the belief that is when circadian rhythms dictate the human body’s greatest demand for sleep.
Differing Views on Trucker Safety
Safety advocates approve of the overnight rest periods. But the trucking industry takes exception to the timing of this rest requirement, claiming that it will increase trucking traffic during the morning commute. They say the increase would be dangerous because 6 a.m. to noon is when most truck accidents happen.