The U.S. Transportation Department is moving to ease drive-time rules for commercial truckers, the Associated Press recently reported. While many truckers, trucking companies and industry lobbyists support a relaxation of the rules, transportation safety advocates are concerned that it could lead to increased driver fatigue.
Current regulations limit long-haul truckers to 11 hours of driving time within a 14-hour on-duty window. They must have had 10 consecutive hours off duty between shifts. And they must take one 30-minute break before reaching eight hours in a shift.
Delivering their cargo is a race against the clock for truckers, who can drive as many as 600 miles in one haul and are often paid by the mile. And the clock doesn’t stop during loading and unloading of cargo.
Norman Tello, of Walla Walla, Wash., a driver for Tate Transportation, said the rules should be changed.
“It’s flawed because you’re racing the clock all the time,” Tello said, while filling his truck with gas at Love’s Travel Stop in Idaho Falls. “You’re constantly fighting to get to where you want to go before your time runs out.”
Driving hours are tracked by electronic logging devices, or ELDs, which are wired to engines and show drivers how much time they have left in a shift. The Obama Administration ordered in late 2017 that the logging devices be mandated, the Associated Press reported.
The Trump Administration has not overturned the ELD requirement, the Associated Press reported, however it is looking at other ways to make regulations more flexible.
One way to improve truckers’ flexibility is to allow the on-duty clock to pause during pickups and deliveries, Tello said. The loading process can take three to four hours.
“It just shortens our day,” Tello said. “I think the 14 hours should stop when we’re at a customer, whether we’re getting loaded or unloaded. If we’re at a customer for a lengthy period of time a lot of drivers will take naps. When they get back on the road they’re well-rested.”
Fatigue, safety advocates say, causes trucking accidents too often, which is why they oppose relaxing the strict drive-time rules. Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, an alliance of insurance companies and consumer, public health and safety groups, told the Associated Press that the 11-hour drive-time limit is already “exceedingly liberal.”
There were 4,657 large trucks involved in fatal crashes in 2017, a 10 percent increase from the previous year, according to a report by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Sixty of the truckers in these accidents were identified as “asleep or fatigued,” the Associated Press reported, although the National Transportation Safety Board has said this type of driver impairment is likely underreported on accident forms.
The National Transportation Safety Board declared fatigue a “pervasive problem” in all forms of transportation, the Associated Press reported, and added reducing fatigue-related accidents to its 2019-2020 “most wanted list” of safety improvements.
Tello, who typically delivers potatoes to North Dakota, argues it’s the clock, not lack of sleep, that makes truckers drive less safely.
“A lot of these drivers do unsafe things to get to where they’re going,” he said. “We try to stay safe. But when you’re racing the clock from the time you get up until the time you got to bed it makes it difficult.”
Not all truckers oppose the current regulations.
David Martineau, of Idaho Falls, a 26-year driver who works for Doug Andrus Distributing, says he’s adjusted to the drive-time rules.
“I feel it’s fine,” he said. “As long as we’re making miles and money, I’m OK with it. You just got to run it like a clock. You can’t take too long at the truck stops or take too long of breaks, or you won’t make it.”
Although, Martineau said, the regulations can be tougher on new drivers. “They don’t know where they’re going yet, they don’t know where the truck stops are,” he said.
Martineau’s major concern is parking. Strict delivery schedules and drive-time rules increase the importance of finding a strategic place to park, Martineau said. “You can’t just shut down early.”
And well-known truck stops are becoming more crowded, Martineau said.
“It’s getting harder and harder to find a place,” he said.
As for the 11-hour drive-time regulations, Martineau has a consistent routine: five hours driving, a 30-minute break and another five hours on the road.
“If they go any shorter it’s going to be harder on us,” he said.