Proposed drowsy driving rules target truckers

Amy Higgins

Two out of five drivers admit they've fallen asleep at the wheel, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. One in 10 drivers acknowledged doing so in the previous year.

Knowing that a one-ton vehicle could crash into you at any given moment because of an exhausted driver is scary -- but what if that driver was operating a semi-truck weighing more than 30,000 pounds? If a commercial truck driver were to cause an accident after falling asleep at the wheel, the result likely would be catastrophic. With this in mind, officials are proposing stricter rules for commercial drivers.

Revising the rulebook

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration FMCSA) has proposed the following changes:

  • Limiting a driver's workday to 14 hours actually 13 hours because of a mandatory one-hour break). All driving must be completed sometime within that window, although the proposal contains provisions for extending the window to 16 hours twice a week to account for loading and off-loading.
  • Limiting consecutive behind-the-wheel time within the workday to 10 hours.

Federal hours-of-service rules were revised in 2004 to ensure truck drivers are rested in order to prevent accidents, but the FMCSA is proposing these new rules to make certain truck drivers are alert behind the wheel. The public comment period ended in March 2011, and the final rules must be set by summer 2011.

Failing to comply with driving limit rules could result in civil penalties up to $2,750 per offense for commercial truck drivers, and companies that allow their truck drivers to break the rules could owe up to $11,000 in penalties per offense.

Supporters of the proposals hope such regulations will cut down on drowsy driving.

"A fatigued driver has no place behind the wheel of a large commercial truck," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says.

The new rules will help ensure that commercial drivers are "rested, alert and focused on safety while on the job," according to LaHood.

Just as before, drivers will be limited 60 on-duty hours per seven days. And, just as before, they can restart that weekly clock by resting for 34 consecutive hours.

Truckers talk

Commercial truck drivers say that although the new rules might cut down on drowsy driving, they will increase aggressive driving. According to Allstate, trucking officials are concerned that limiting the hours truckers have to do their jobs would prompt them to try to do their work faster -- and take risks in doing so. New, inexperienced drivers who still need extra time while becoming familiar with the job would be most affected, according to the release.

Dave Osiecki, senior vice president of the American Trucking Associations, asked the FMCSA at a public session to withdraw its proposal and "stand behind good rules it developed and consistently justified for the past seven years."

At the session, Osiecki also said that FMCSA has failed to produce research to support changes to the current rules. Although FMCSA's research found "hypothetical benefits" resulting from increased sleep, the FMCSA's research also found that drivers already sleep six to seven hours a night, a level that's within the normal sleep range, Osiecki said.

Wake up!

Whether or not these new provisions are placed on commercial drivers, drowsy driving is dangerous. To remain alert and avoid drowsiness, AAA recommends all drivers have at least six hours of sleep the night before a long trip and schedule a break every two hours or every 100 miles. While getting to your destination may be imperative, arriving alive is significantly more important.

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