Saturday, April 26, 2003

No Doze?

April 1997, mid-afternoon: We were on the interstate outside of Allentown, Pennsylvania, driving back from a skiing trip in Canada, my wife beside me and the three kids in the back of the van. Traffic slowed to a stop because of an accident or road construction in front of us I glanced in the rear view mirror and saw a speeding semi bearing down on us. Before I could react, it hit us, slamming us into the car ahead, blowing our air bags and squishing our Windstar mini-van into the size of a compact Honda. Happily, aside from a few bloody noses, a slightly impaled leg from an unsafely stowed ski pole (my bad) and a bit of psychological trauma, we were all OK.

We were never sure why the truck hit us, although some people thought the driver must have been dozing. It was a clear, straight road and other truckers reported warning him over C.B. that traffic had stopped ahead.

So I observe with great interest an announcement of new federal rules that will “will allow truckers to drive an hour longer each day but require them to take two more hours of rest." The Washington Post reports that

Safety groups and unionized truck drivers oppose the new rule. Trucking companies are expected to endorse it, officials said.
The rule, which will be announced by the Transportation Department, will allow drivers to be behind the wheel for 11 hours instead of the current 10, sources said. But their overall shift, which includes time for breaks, loading and unloading, will be cut an hour to 14 hours.
The new rule, the sources added, will require drivers to take 10 consecutive hours off, instead of the current eight. Regulators who settled on the 10-hour rest period said research supports giving truckers longer periods to ease fatigue.

Drivers represented by the Teamsters union said they have "serious concerns" about the rule change because the increase in allowed driving time could add to fatigue. "It's something that helps the companies because they can work drivers harder and put them on longer runs," said Rob Black, spokesman for the Teamsters.

Safety groups were unhappy too, especially because the new rule will not require trucking operators to use electronic recording devices to keep accurate logs of the time drivers are on the road.

"The rule is meaningless without enforcement. They can't enforce 10 hours of driving now. How will they enforce 11?" said Jacqueline Gillan, vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.
The safety group also said that although drivers will get more time to sleep, the benefit will be offset by longer driving times. Gillan said research shows that drivers become tired after eight or nine hours on the road.
OK. I feel much safer now.