Many of us can identify with driver fatigue—maybe even especially right now with all of the holiday travel going on. The last hours of a long road trip or night-time driving at the end of a long day can be difficult. We do all sorts of things to compensate—drink some extra coffee, roll the windows down, or turn up the radio. Even though we often think we can push through to our destination, driver fatigue is a serious safety issue on the highway. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, it is a contributing factor in more than 100,000 crashes a year in the United States.
In other words, your own safety on the road depends on whether other drivers on the road are fatigued. Of course, this includes drivers of large semi-trucks. How alert and awake these drivers are behind the wheel is a major safety issue that the Department of Transportation and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration have been seeking to address for several years now. And, just this week, they announced a new federal rule that mandates a new limit on the hours per week truck drivers can work. The new rule will go into full effect in 2013.
The rule addresses the “hours-of-service” safety requirements for truck drivers. Under current rules, truck drivers were permitted to work up to 82 hours within a single seven day period. That averages to nearly 12 hours a day—a work day that anyone would find exhausting. But under the new rule, drivers will only be allowed to work up to 70 hours per seven day period. While a ten hour work day is still long, the rule will help drivers be more refreshed behind the wheel. The new rule continues with the policy of allowing drivers to drive up to 11 hours in a single day.
Along the same lines of encouraging driver rest, the new rule also states that after driving 8 consecutive hours, a truck driver will be legally required to take at least a 30 minute break. In addition, any truck driver who actually works the maximum 70 hours allowed in a week must then take at least two nights’ rest between 1 am and 5 am.
To help ensure that both drivers and the companies that employ them abide by these new rule, it establishes company fines of up to $11,000 per offense for certain offenses, and drivers could face penalties up to $2,750 per offense.
The rule will hopefully represent a significant step forward in trucking safety. It is the product of scientific research about sleep patterns and driving safety as well as input from safety advocates, drivers, trucking companies, law enforcement, and others.