Many professional truck drivers who may face pressure to meet cargo delivery deadlines may not adhere to driving time restrictions and skip their required break times. These actions increase the potential for a driver to be operating while fatigued. An estimated 72,000 crashes in the U.S. annually are attributed to drowsiness. The impact drowsiness has on accidents is likely underreported. The American Trucking Association (ATA) has been encouraging Congress lately to disregard labor attorney efforts to revise new scheduling rules imposed by the states.
Hours-of-Service (HOS) Regulations
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is the central industry regulator. They issued the Hours of Service of Drivers Rules in 2011, which explains work schedule rules as follows:
- A maximum of 11 hours may be spent driving following 10 hours of off-duty time.
- A 30-minute break is required for every eight hours of driving time.
- In a seven-day period, the maximum driving time is 60 hours.
- In an eight-day period, the maximum driving time is 70 hours.
- There are some exceptions applicable to short-haul drivers.
Drowsy Driving vs Drunk Driving
A study by AAA showed failing to get a good night's sleep increases the likelihood of causing an accident. Those who slept between four and five hours had a 4.3 times greater likelihood of being in a crash compared to those who slept for seven hours. Those who slept under four hours had an 11.5 times greater likelihood of being involved in a crash. A drunk driver has between a 2.7 and 3.9 times greater likelihood to crash compared to someone who is sober. This suggests drowsy drivers are possibly more dangerous than those who are intoxicated.
The Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994 established federal uniformity for industry regulation. States were not allowed to implement their own individual laws. The goal was simplification rather than having drivers subjected to varying laws as they travel between states. The ATA does support this uniformity. Bill Graves, ATA President, believes laws should be “consistent and fair” across the country.
California Break-Time Rules
California lawmakers decided to challenge the federal uniformity requirements by implementing their own rules. One change followed the state's new law requiring all employees to take a 30-minute break for every five hours worked. Also, a 10-minute break is required for every four hours worked. The Supreme Court ruled in 2015 to allow these California laws, finding the rules were beyond the scope of the FMCSA requirements that bar states from making changes to “prices, services, or routes.”
Potential Consequences of Tired Truck Driving
Commercial drivers may be placed in a position to compromise safety for meeting goals or earning additional income. Unfortunately, accidents that involve these massive vehicles have the potential for significantly greater damage and catastrophic injuries. One FMCSA report analyzed 967 crashes and found that 7.5% of drivers were tired at the time of the collision, highlighting the importance of break time enforcement.