It’s a problem that’s rumbled its way to the top of local and federal totem poles, generating substantial controversy along the way.
Commercial truck drivers continue to stretch their limitations, according to findings by WFIR 23 in Rockford, IL, which earlier reported that operators of large rigs knowingly neglect the industry-mandated (and federally mandated) restrictions on driving hours to A) make up for lost time B) lessen the pressure of a deadline and/or C) make extra money by logging more miles. Because truck drivers are often paid by the mile, they have incentive to drive as much as possible to increase earnings.
The benefits of breaking the law and going over hours, however, definitely do not outweigh the costs. When truck drivers are driving while over-hours, they drive exhausted, rushed, or both. Think about a semi truck like the one pictured above, pushing down the freeway, say 5 pm in the winter – it’s dark out, and the driver’s been on the road for hours, but he knows he has another hundred miles to his destination. Big rigs are hard enough to control as is; and hoping the tired, hungry, hurried, distracted driver is able to stop the truck to avoid a collision is not a situation you want to find yourself in, ever. Do you feel safe with these drivers on the road?
In this case, the troublesome trend of driving while over-hours is made even more troublesome by virtue of its clandestine nature. WFIR points out that the Illinois State Police dedicates a group of officers to keeping drivers in check by monitoring food and gas receipts and driving logs. The problem: Not everyone tells the truth.
One Rockford officer said he’s come across instances in which drivers keep two separate logs: one for the official books and one to present to law enforcement upon inspection. Hundreds—if not thousands—of drivers, the report continues, forge time sheets to make it appear as though they’re within the legal limit. Between January and September of 2014 in the state of Illinois, more than a 1,000 truckers were caught driving too long without taking a break.
The Federal Motor Carrier and Safety Administration, which allows drivers to work a maximum 11-hour driving day following 10 consecutive hours off the road, recognizes the risks facing the public. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has compared long stints of driver fatigue to drinking and driving; Bloomberg, in a December article that detailed provisions of the new fiscal budget (which includes a rollback of mandated hour regulations for truckers), wrote that truck crashes resulted in 3,912 deaths in 2012, and that the fatal-crash rate has increased each year since 2009.
As a law firm that represents truck crash injury victims, it’s hard not to cringe when we read statistics like the ones above.
In December of 2011, the FMCSA announced efforts to curb driver fatigue by augmenting provisions to the already-lengthy rules. The agency identified chronic fatigue as leading cause of injury among drivers, a result of long daily and weekly hours. At the time of the new regulations, the agency estimated that the new safety regulations would save 19 lives and prevent 1,400 crashes and 560 injuries annually.
Driver fatigue has since become the basis for several proposals, most prominently one that would incorporate e-logs as a means of monitoring drivers’ hours more closely. But one doesn’t need to look far to find opposition. Lobbyists for the trucking industry insist that long hours is the nature of the business, and as it stands, an 80-year-old pay system rewards truckers by the mile, giving truckers incentive to stay on the road for longer stretches of time.
The controversy, it seems, will rage on, but we will keep fighting against those who play fast and loose with rules designed – and proven – to keep the public safe.