Road Safe America: Why the difference in work schedules for truckers and pilots?

A recent move by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to tighten several rules for commercial truckers’ work schedules drew questions from Road Safe America (RSA) as to why the limits for airline pilots, announced the day prior to the trucking rules, would differ for truck drivers.

“It seems to us that fatigue is fatigue is fatigue,” said RSA President Steve Owings in a written statement from RSA. “The new limits for pilots are 8 or 9 daily hours of flying, depending on the time of day the flight hours begin. By comparison, truck drivers don’t have co-pilots, don’t have auto-pilot and must stay especially alert whenever driving since they share the public thoroughfares with the motoring public.”

A related decision, currently working its way through the rule-making process, is a requirement that truck driving hours be tracked electronically, instead of being self reported on paper logs by the drivers as currently required. “This rule will finally give the DOT accurate information about the real drive times occurring in the industry, which will be very helpful in fatigue analysis going forward,” Owings noted.

“We congratulate President Barack Obama, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro for making progress toward putting public safety ahead of industry concerns for efficiency,” said Owings. “However – it’s vital that the FMCSA ‘cross the goal line’ by reducing the daily drive time to 10 hours from 11, as originally proposed some months ago.”  Numerous presentations on fatigue have been made to the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee, of which Owings is a member, from sleep science experts and their data makes it clear that humans become fatigued after eight hours of work and their fatigue level increases exponentially each hour through the 12th hour.

New hours-of-service rules officially published by FMCSA on Dec. 27 retain the “34-hour restart” provision allowing drivers to restart the clock on their weekly 60-70 hours after at least 34 consecutive hours off-duty. The restart period would have to include two consecutive off-duty periods from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. Drivers could use this restart only once in a seven-day period. Truckers also would have to complete all driving within a 14-hour workday, and complete all work-related activities within 13 hours to allow for at least one hour of breaks.

“The new 70-hour work week limit is a step in the right direction but it still allows 75% more hours than the average work week in America,” said Owings. “What we really need is a reasonable pay methodology for U.S. truck drivers. Truck drivers should not be paid by-the-mile, but instead receive a professional’s wage for every hour worked, including overtime, whether their truck is moving or not. The good men and women who populate our nation’s truck driving profession provide an economic backbone of services to all Americans. Currently though, there is no financial incentive not to work truck drivers to death, which is quite literally what is happening.

“The numerous changes announced last week are extremely important and, when enacted, will save lives by reducing the number of fatigued truck drivers on our highways,” Owings said.  “But failure to cut the length of a trucker’s daily driving time limit from 11 hours to 10 – where it stood for decades before going up in 2004 – leaves a gaping hole in highway safety regulations.

“Nearly all trucking industry stakeholders have lobbied hard to keep the daily limit at 11 hours, but the safety advocate community is 100 percent behind reducing the limit,” Owings continued. “Virtually every day, we see the horror that overworked and under-rested truck drivers cause on our roads.”

Steve Owings and his wife, Susan, founded Road Safe America in 2003 after their son, Cullum, was killed when his car – stopped in an interstate traffic jam – was crushed from behind by a speeding tractor trailer going seven miles per hour above the posted speed limit on cruise control. Since that tragic event, the Owings, through Road Safe America, have worked to make highways safer for travelers.