Tackling Tired Truckers

 Paige Smith, Editor

The original hours-of-service (HOS) regulations were first implemented for truck drivers in 1939 by the US Department of Transportation—at a time when researchers knew little about the effects of sleep deprivation, fatigue, sleep disorders, and circadian rhythms. Since then, commercial trucks have become larger, heavier, and more powerful, and the roads have become more congested. Also, to avoid increasing daytime traffic and meet delivery deadlines, truck drivers are often required to drive through the night to meet these demands, therefore fighting their biological clocks. Because of these dramatic changes combined with the latest research and awareness of the importance of sleep, a revision of the HOS regulations for trucks on the highway was inevitable.

Starting on January 4, 2004, the nation’s 3 million truckers can work 14-hour shifts, including loading, up to 11 hours of driving, breaks, and unloading. Those shifts must be followed by 10 hours off the clock, which is 2 more than the law previously required. Similarly, truckers may not drive after being on duty for 60 hours in a 7-consecutive-day period or 70 hours in an 8-consecutive-day period. This on-duty cycle may be restarted only after a driver takes at least 34 consecutive hours off duty. These regulations are geared to synchronize the commercial drivers’ work and rest schedule better with the body’s circadian rhythm to reduce fatigue and save lives.

According to Norman Y. Mineta, US Secretary of Transportation, “The new safety rule gives us the means to save hundreds of lives, protect billions in commerce, and safeguard our roads and highways for years to come. We must do whatever we can to make certain everyone is aware and in full compliance as soon as possible.” It is estimated that the rule will save 75 lives, prevent 1,326 fatigue-related injuries, and prevent 6,900 property damage-only crashes annually, resulting in an annual savings of $628 million.

In 1996, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) initiated a review of the HOS regulations for commercial motor carrier drivers due to the concern about the effects of fatigue as a contributing factor in commercial motor vehicle crashes. In response to this concern, the FMCSA analyzed the scientific research, convened expert panels, and held hearings and roundtable discussions. They also reviewed more than 53,000 individual comments submitted during the rulemaking process. In April 2003, the FMCSA issued the first significant revision to the HOS regulations and worked with its partners and stakeholders to ensure a smooth transition to the new regulations.

While the US population continues to increase, more vehicles will be on the road. It is comforting to know that Congress has recognized the need to make America a safer place for the driving public.

Paige Smith
[email protected]