One of the most talked-about stories this June was the truck accident that severely injured comedian Tracy Morgan, a native New Yorker best known for his work on Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock. While driving on the New Jersey Turnpike, Morgan’s limousine was struck by a semi-truck operated by a driver who allegedly had not slept in 24 hours.
Like many truck accidents, this one was preventable. Although it is unclear why the driver was behind the wheel despite being so fatigued, other truck drivers can understand the pressures he may have been under. Despite federal regulations meant to decrease fatigue and improve driver safety, the trucking industry continues to focus only on delivery deadlines and miles traveled with little regard for the human limitations of drivers.
Many independent truck drivers need to keep moving in order to make money. They only get paid for the miles they drive. This incentive structure sends the message that any time off the road is wasted, including time needed for sleep.
When truck drivers are slowed or stalled by unanticipated delays, they often feel pressured to make that time up by cutting out rest breaks and sleep. But this creates another problem: Compliance with federal hours-of-service rules.
The HOS rules, which took effect a year ago, limit how many hours truck drivers can be on the road in a day and in a weekly driving cycle. Rest periods are also mandated. But if truck drivers are forced to choose between getting paid and being in compliance with the HOS rules, most will choose the former. Log books get falsified and fatigued truck drivers stay behind the wheel long past the point of safety.
Trucking industry representatives continue to fight Congress on the HOS regulations, arguing that they place unnecessary and unreasonable limitations on business. Meanwhile, the pressure remains on truck drivers to meet deadlines by any means necessary. Until or unless a fundamental change in regards to this issue occurs, truck drivers and all other drivers will continue to be at risk.
Source: The New York Times, "Truckers Resist Rules on Sleep, Despite Risks of Drowsy Driving," Jad Mouawad and Elizabeth A. Harris, June 16, 2014