Why Some Truck Drivers are Unsafe
Brian W. Porter
First, let me say that, as with every other category of work, some truck drivers do a less than stellar job. They will follow too closely, sometimes within feet of the person in front of them, or they will drive aggressively as if they are in a sports car, or they will have a phone to their ear and drive too slowly or weave around, just like folk in cars who are considered dangerous. These are the people you notice, the drivers who stand out. Those you do not notice, the vast majority, are the good drivers who travel with the flow of traffic, who do not constantly change lanes in backups, and who drive with courtesy. There are times, however, when even good drivers do bad things. Truck drivers live on the road. They work weeks or months at a time, their lives dictated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's regulations and their dispatcher's or broker's desires. When they stop to sleep and eat at a diner or truck stop, they will often discuss the Hours of Service. Most older drivers agree that the old Hours of Service, while flawed, did allow a driver to eat his meals at a normal time, or take a break when he was tired or sick, and still allowed him to complete his job. Now the sentiment is that Congress did not put the hardest regulation to comply with in place for the safety of the American Public, or the safety or health of the drivers as the FMCSA claim, or to make the driver's day a full twenty-four hours. The only reason for the strict rule that a driver may not drive past fourteen hours, one of the rules I explained in my essay about the Hours of Service, is to make it easier for the Department of Transportation officers to collect fines. There are several problems with this rule. The foremost, and the most dangerous, is that there is no way to extend the fourteen hours. Many times a driver needs most or all of those fourteen hours to reach his destination, or somewhere safer than the edge of the road. He does not have extra time to stop somewhere to eat, or to lie down for a moment if he is tired or sick. He must continue to drive along America's highways as part of the traveling public, with slowed reactions and not fully alert. As an example, take a quick look at the life of Joe Schmoe IV.
He is three weeks into his six weeks between six day breaks, on schedule and content with his life. In the morning, near the end of his Federally mandated ten hour break, he eats breakfast and jokes with a few other drivers, then leaves the truck stop as the sun rises to reach his destination before his scheduled appointment at eight in the morning. He makes his delivery without a hassle, and then drives to his pick up. That is when he encounters a problem many drivers face. He arrives at the shipper near noon, and works out that even if they take two hours to load him, which is more than enough time to eat lunch and place twenty pallets on a trailer, he will arrive at his destination in two days, an hour before his appointment time, and with two and a half hours left of the fourteen. That is enough time for the receiver to unload the truck and for Joe to reach the truck stop across town. So far, his day goes well. After Joe backs into the dock, the truck bounces a few times as the heavy forklift carries pallets onto the trailer. Then the bouncing stops. There is no way the loader ran a full load into the trailer, yet the trailer has not bounced for more than fifteen minutes, so Joe walks into the building to check on the progress. The trailer is less than half loaded, and the loader backs out of another truck. When Joe asks why he is not loaded, the shipper says that they ran out of product and they are making more, and since Joe was early, it is not their fault that he must wait, and they will not pay the detention time Joe receives after he waits two hours. They also mention that he needs less than twenty hours to reach his destination, and he will be loaded in plenty of time for that, as if he could drive for twenty hours without a break. After seven hours have passed, Joe receives the Bill of Lading and can leave. Now, even if he hurries, he will not reach his destination on time, and he will reach a major urban area at drive time, which will make him even later. He calls his dispatcher to suggest they reschedule the delivery. His dispatcher says that he must deliver the load, and it must be on time since the receiver reschedules any load that is more than half an hour late, usually for the next week, no matter what the reason, He also has a pick up to make right after his delivery. Now Joe has to make up four or more hours. The the only way to do that is to drive until he reaches the truck stop where he planned to stay, hope they have a parking place, which is doubtful at the time he expects to arrive, and take a few hour break, which not only includes sleeping, but eating as well. Now he
will drive while he is tired, and he is in a hurry, neither of which is a good situation. Most drivers I talk with agree that if they are falling asleep or sick they should pull over. An accident hurts their record, raises their insurance, and too many violations during a set period will remove their ability to earn an income. That does not take into consideration the devastation they feel when they hurt someone, for whatever reason. Most truck drivers want to drive safely, and stop when necessary. However, if they did stop and were late for their delivery, as Joe would be, many places would make them reschedule their appointment, sometimes days or weeks later. During that time, they cannot carry anything else in their already loaded trailer, so they cannot work and feed their family or pay the bills. Instead, they will drive while they are tired or sick, just to make their scheduled delivery. Truck drivers wait for loads more than most people realize. Personally, I have waited more than fifteen hours for a load, and some drivers I have talked with have waited more than twenty-four hours beyond their scheduled appointment time. Yet many receivers believe that the only reason a driver is late is because the lazy bum hangs around the truck stop instead of doing his job. The Truck Driver's Hours of Service rules state that a driver may take up to two hours off, then work until fourteen hours after he started, which includes the break he just took, and then complete the second part of the mandatory ten-hour break. If, however, your destination is twelve to fourteen hours from where you started your day, as is the case for Joe, a driver cannot stop or he will run out of hours before he completes his trip. If Joe had followed the regulations, he would have been a day late. Another problem with the strict fourteen-hour rule is the lack of truck parking in many parts of the country. Some areas of the country have very few truck stops, and the few that are available fill up quickly. When the legal parking for trucks is full, a driver must park on a ramp, which is usually illegal and always unsafe, or he must find a shopping center or other parking area, which is usually illegal, or he must park along the side of the road, which is not safe at all. On the other hand, he can continue to drive past the fourteen-hour mark, which is what usually happens. For example, if a driver finds himself heading east bound on Interstate 84 at the west end of New York when he reaches his fourteen-hour limit, he may stop at the Danbury,
Connecticut rest area, if he can find one of the less than thirty parking spaces open. Usually the driver must continue. The next truck stop is in Milldale, Connecticut, forty-five minutes down the road, but it usually fills up between three and five in the afternoon, even if you are willing to pay the twelve-dollar parking fee. Just past Milldale is another rest area, which has about twenty parking spaces. Forty-five minutes farther on is another rest area with less than ten parking places. Less than two miles later is the T/A at Willington, a truck stop with a parking lot almost a quarter mile long. Drivers usually find room there, but they have to pay a twelve-dollar parking fee. The driver in our example not only must pay that fee, but he is now an hour and a half, or more, beyond the fourteen-hour limit.
Another provision of the Hours of Service Regulations is that a driver must not drive more than eleven hours between each ten-hour break. If a driver is going cross-country, he will perform a fifteenminute pretrip, use half an hour to fuel, then at the end of the day use a fifteen-minute post trip to do his paperwork. Now that he has driven eleven hours, and worked one, he must stop and take his mandatory ten-hour break. This driver's day starts every twenty-two hours, two hours earlier than humans have dealt with for many millennia, a schedule he must keep if he wants to make his delivery. This does not allow for the circadian rhythm of a twenty-four hour day that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration claimed was the reason for the rules change. With the designed comfort and ride of the new tractors, and the quality of the cross country expressways, it is easy to extend the the long haul trucker's driving day to twenty-four hours instead of twenty-two. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration could make some changes, relax the fourteen-hour rule, or make the exceptions necessary to make America's highways safe. They could extend the hours that road drivers may drive. They can also stop treating American truck drivers as if we were children, suggest we wake up
the same time every day, and let us make our schedule to maximize our production.
*** Other short stories, essays, and poetry from this author are available at http://www.scribd.com/Brian%20W%20Porter. *** Copyright 2010 Attribution Non-commercial No-derivs You may share this work with anyone in any way with the following provisions. You must share the complete work, including the title and this notice. You may not make any changes. You may not use this work commercially or accept payment without the written permission of the Author. Any and all rights and credit are held by Brian W. Porter.