In 2013, the federal rules regarding hours of service for interstate truck and bus drivers changed. The maximum workweek was reduced from 82 hours to 70 hours. In addition, the rest needed to “restart” a week was set at 34 hours which must include two consecutive periods from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. The justification for that last change was studies showing the importance of nighttime rest in preventing fatigue. It’s true that the government can’t force truck and bus drivers to get enough sleep. They can, however, see the toll taken by tired drivers and do what they can to encourage drivers to get adequate rest.
Drowsy driving causes an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 deadly accidents every year. Commercial drivers are among the most likely to drive tired, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Despite these facts, many in the trucking industry are fighting back against the new hours of service rules. A Republican Senator from Maine recently sent an amendment through Committee to freeze the new rules. The critics contend that the benefits of requiring commercial drivers to take two nights off to potentially rest have not been proven through studies. They also contend that the rules put more truck drivers on the roads during periods of heavy traffic.
Part of the problem is that fatigued driving is not as easy to detect as drunk driving. Drivers who are involved in accidents are often reluctant to volunteer information about what they did wrong. A truck driver who dozes off behind the wheel and causes a fatal accident is unlikely to admit the problem when the result could be a stay in prison.
Source: The New York Times, “Truckers Resist Rules on Sleep, Despite Risks of Drowsy Driving,” by Jad Mouawad and Elizabeth A. Harris, 16 June 2014