Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Manufacturing Doubt On The Highways

I have to admit, after reading a couple of articles about new government regulations concerning how many hours truckers are allowed to work without rest, I'm totally confused.

But I don't think I should be.

New government regulations say that truck drivers can spend up to 11 hours a day behind the wheel before taking a break. Prior to 2003, the limit was 10 hours. The Bush adminstration recently revised some trucker rules, but the 11 hour limit remains. On the other hand, their total workday has been shortened from 15 to 14 hours and drivers are now required to rest for at least 10 hours in a row, eight of which must be in their sleeper berth.

So is all this good or bad?
Trucking company and government transportation officials contend the new rules strike a proper balance between the need to keep goods moving and the need to keep people on the road safe. Truck drivers can spend more time behind the wheel, but their rest is much more regulated than before.


Beth Bandy of Somerville, N.J., thinks truckers need more rest.

Her father, Bill Badger, died Dec. 23 when a tractor-trailer rear-ended his cherry red Chevrolet Cavalier, crumpling it, as he was on his way to catch a plane to see her. The driver, nearing the end of his shift, admitted falling asleep.

"We wanted to get together for Christmas and instead, we were making funeral arrangements," the 47-year-old former receptionist said, fighting back tears.

Bandy belongs to a group, Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, that is pressing the government to reduce truckers' driving time. They also want the government to scrap a provision allowing drivers to spend as much as 17 more hours on the road per week on top of the 60 hours they were allowed under the old rule.

"That is twice the time that most Americans work, and they have to be alert and able to drive that big truck so it doesn't destroy other people," said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, a non-profit consumer watchdog group that sued to toughen the 2003 rules. "The result is that drivers are pushed beyond their capacity ... causing horrific crashes."
Company owners think the new rules are great:
Adding an 11th hour doesn't necessarily mean driving an additional hour, said Dave Osiecki, vice president for safety, security and operations for the American Trucking Association.

"There's downtime for loading. There's downtime for unloading," he said. "A driver has to stop and go to the bathroom, (and) stop for fuel ... safety inspections."

A study by Virginia Tech found that drivers may be getting more sleep under the new rule -- almost six and a half hours a day.
Hello? 6 1/2 hour is a lot? This is more than they were getting before?

And I'm not entirely clear about this:
Cutting a trucker's driving time any further would make the roads less safe because more rigs would have to be deployed to deliver the same amount of freight, trucking companies argue.

"What you would do is actually increase the likelihood of large truck crashes," said Don Osterberg, who oversees driver training and safety at Schneider National, a Green Bay, Wis., trucking firm with nearly 16,000 drivers.
Now it gets really confusing:
The trucking association, citing federal research, says most deadly crashes involving large trucks happen in the first four hours of a shift, while only 4 percent occur after eight hours on the road.
OK, but then there's this:
The crash risk for truck drivers in the last hour of a now legal 11-hour day behind the wheel is more than three times higher than during the first hour, a Penn State research team has found.

For 60 years, federal rules limited truckers to driving 10 consecutive hours. However, in January 2004, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration raised the limit to 11 hours and reaffirmed the change in October this year.

Paul Jovanis, professor of civil engineering, faculty associate at the Pennsylvania Transportation Institute, and study leader, says, "Our analysis of data from three national trucking companies during normal operations in 2004 shows that the crash risk is statistically similar for the first six hours of driving and then increases in significant steps thereafter. The 11th hour has a crash risk more than three times the first hour."
Now, as I said back at the beginning, I'm confused, but I shouldn't be.

Why not?

Because I can't believe that with all the research going into astronauts' sleep requirements, and the fatigue factors of fighter pilots and other high performance jobs, that no one can figure out how long a trucker can drive safely. I mean, how long have people been driving trucks? The stakes are far too high for this stupid "he said, she said" bullshit.

Full Disclosure: My entire family came close to being obliterated eight years ago on the Interstate outside of Allentown, PA when we were rammed from behind by a trucker who had probably fallen asleep. My kids still have nighmares. I still get shivers.