Driver Fatigue In Truck Drivers
In a Journal of Public Health Policy article, "Long Hours and Fatigue: A Survey of Tractor-Trailer Drivers," a team of six investigators reported on interviews they had conducted with 1,249 semi-trailer drivers at inspection stations and truck stops in Connecticut, Florida, Oklahoma and Oregon.
The investigators said 31 percent (386) of the drivers admitted having driven more than the weekly hours-of-service limit of 60 hours over seven days or 70 hours over eight days. Another six percent of the drivers reported they had not violated the hours-of-service law during the current month but had done so during the previous month.
In addition, 19 percent of the drivers stated they had fallen asleep at the wheel one or more times during the past month, and two-thirds acknowledged having under-reported their actual hours of work in their log book during the previous year. Falsification of logs is, in fact, so common -- and verification of log entries so difficult for USDOT officials -- that truckers dismiss the log as their "comic book."
These findings are serious. Numerous studies have documented that driver attention begins to lapse noticeably after about four hours at the wheel and declines very steeply after eight hours. A 1983 USDOT study found that in 41 percent of serious tractor-trailer crashes, driving in excess of 15 hours without rest was the probable cause and was a contributing cause in another 18 percent of crashes.[source] A 1987 IIHS study showed that drivers behind the wheel for more than eight hours are almost twice as likely to have an accident as drivers who are rested.
A Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) study released in early 1997 showed that time-of-day may be a more important predictor of fatigue than continuous time behind the wheel. Other recent studies have shown that inattention due to fatigue occurs more frequently when drivers work through the night in opposition to the body's normal circadian rhythm. And, while 19 percent of the drivers in the study reported in the Journal of Public Health Policy admitted having dozed at the wheel, the researchers pointed out that this figure is probably low because people quite commonly doze for a few seconds and awaken without realizing they were asleep.[source] So, almost three fourths of tractor-trailer drivers surveyed acknowledged that they violate hours-of-service limits even though they know they are fatigued. The Federal Highway Administration has announced its intention to review and revise the current hours-of-service rules.
Why do so many of America's professional truck drivers stay at the wheel so long?
The Journal of Public Health Policy investigators reported:
When violators were asked for common reasons for driving more than 10 hours in one day, which can be legal in some circumstances, one-third (283) cited tight schedule, 31 percent (260) cited needing the money, 12 percent (98) cited traffic jams and 10 percent (87) cited inclement weather.
Two thirds of the drivers, in other words, said they violated the rules essentially for economic reasons: They had to break the law in order to make a living or to please a shipper -- which amounts to the same thing. Although several technologies for monitoring driver hours are available, the public-health investigators felt that a reduction of the economic pressure on the trucker would more effectively reduce the driver's incentive to drive past the point of fatigue.
If drivers are accurate in their reports, carriers and shippers are contributing to the problem by assigning unrealistic pick-up and delivery deadlines and penalizing drivers for late arrivals, the investigators wrote. Changes in the hours-of service regulations to put more burden on the carrier and the shipper should be made... Carriers and shippers must go beyond merely having a policy against violating hours-of service rules; they must take effective action to prevent violations when giving driving assignments, to monitor the logbooks to detect violations, and to discipline drivers who do break the rules...Effective actions are urgently needed to protect the public from the risk posed by the many tractor-trailer drivers who spend illegally long hours at work and behind the wheel. These actions must be directed toward the carriers and shippers, who set schedules that cannot be met even under current regulations, as well as the drivers themselves.
Recently, a new factor has arisen to exacerbate the driver-fatigue problem. In many parts of the country, local and county officials have rejected requests by truckstop owners and developers to open additional rest-stop facilities where long-distance truckers can sleep, eat, shower, shop, make phone calls, and have their vehicles serviced. Lack of safe, comfortable and reasonably priced rest stops makes truck driving unnecessarily difficult and increases the likelihood that a driver will push himself past the fatigue point in an effort to find a place to pull off the road and sleep. The reason for the rejection of building-permit applications for new or expanded truck stops seems to be the NIMBY ("Not In My Back Yard") movement, which increasingly tries to banish commercial and industrial activities from any location near residential property. In some cases, local residents have claimed that truckers, and perhaps truck-stop personnel as well, represent a "bad element" that will lower property values. In others, residents claim that property values will be diminished by truck noise and exhaust and by the 24-hour operation that is essential in the truck-stop industry. Although some of the objections to truck-stop construction have merit, others are erroneous. In both cases, however, failure to expand truck-stop capacity is a threat to driver well-being and hence to safety on the highway.
In the last several years, some safety advocates have called for new regulations requiring the use of monitoring devices to track sleep periods. These devices have merit, but only if and when their costs can be substantially lowered. The problem of fatigue will only be effectively solved when unfair shipper pressure is sharply reduced.