But the question remains: How effective are these hours of service regulations in actually lowering the rate of accidents?
A cursory glance at the 2015 USDOT motor vehicle accident report shows that the number of commercial truck accidents caused by fatigued drivers did not decrease significantly from 2014, nor did the number of fatigue-caused truck accidents in 2014 show a marked improvement from 2013.
In other words, for all the dangers posed by exhaustion among truck drivers, the real issue may not be the exhaustion among these men and women, but what is causing them to risk road safety by driving even when they know they are tired?
“What we’ve seen in the past decade is that driver fatigue is a huge problem with commercial truck drivers,” stated Dallas truck wreck attorney Amy Witherite, partner at Eberstein Witherite, LLP, a personal injury law firm with offices in Dallas, Houston and Fort Worth, as well as in Atlanta, Georgia. “The government has tried to combat this issue with proposals such as speed limiters in these vehicles that would prevent big trucks from exceeding a preset speed, and especially with hours of service regulations that now include electronic logging devices that record the time when a truck is in operation and alert drivers when it’s time to take a break. But to me, the real issue isn’t the fact that commercial drivers are exhausted, it’s why are they so tired, and what can we do to eliminate that cause?”
Witherite is referring to the fact that many commercial truck drivers are under tremendous pressure to make deliveries.
Truck carriers are not simply paid by the amount of cargo they are delivering to a location; they are largely paid premiums to deliver that cargo in the shortest amount of time possible.
Whether that urgency is to meet a client’s immediate demand for product, or is due to the perishable nature of the cargo that truck drivers are delivering, the fact is, many truck carriers demand that their drivers make delivery times above all else.
And that pressure to make a delivery on time has spurred many truck drivers to do whatever they can to bypass rest regulations so that they don’t lose their jobs by not meeting a delivery schedule.
In theory, rest regulations are supposed to keep exhausted drivers off the road, but in reality, how effective can these regulations be if truck drivers simply decide to ignore an ELD alert or a call from their supervisors asking that they stop to rest?
The very nature of commercial truck driving throughout the U.S. these days is one of urgency and timeliness, and that isn’t likely to change.
Millions of truck drivers are given conflicting directives: stay safe on the road, but do everything you can to make that delivery, or else.
When economic livelihood is at stake, most people will do whatever is necessary to ensure survival, and unfortunately, truck drivers risk the lives of others when they make the choice to drive when they are exhausted.
“Without having a tag-team system of some sort in which two drivers take turns hauling cargo, it is going to be very difficult to lower these incidents of driver fatigue-caused truck wrecks,” Witherite added. “The mentality that many truck carriers create is that of a race to the finish line, and they offer bonuses to drivers who can get the cargo to the delivery site on time or even a few hours before the scheduled time of delivery. The other side of that is truck drivers who actually try to follow the rules and get the proper amount of rest may not make those delivery windows, and that can mean they get fired for prioritizing safety over delivery time. It’s a persistent problem that will require a real culture-change in the mindset of the majority of truck carriers, who often only pay lip service to the safety of their drivers and other motorists on the road.”