Why Are Truck Drivers Losing Sleep Over Regulated Rest?

by Jana Ritter - Published: 7/03/2013

The most significant changes and the most significant overhaul of HOS rules governing truck-driver hours in a decade was put into effect July 1st, 2013. While the main point of it all is to give truck drivers more sleep by shortening the workweek, restrict how many nights they can be on the road and require rest breaks during the day-truck drivers are already losing sleep over what this means to them in the long haul.


The Obama administration says the regulations will reduce crashes from sleep-deprived drivers getting behind the wheel. They would effectively cap a driver's average workweek at 70 hours, down from the previous maximum of 82. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration plans to enforce the rules by routinely checking drivers' work logs, in which they are required to report their schedules, and imposing fines up to $11,000 for companies and $2,750 for individual drivers for each offense.

Aside from the hefty fines, trucking companies say the changes will already cost them money— requiring more trucks to carry the same number of loads- with no benefit to employers at all. And even the drivers who are supposed to be the beneficiaries of better rest are complaining that the rules threaten their work schedules and ultimately their paychecks.

Richard Allen and his wife Sandra are among the many truckers who are too worried about their livelihood to be resting easy right now. "It's hard," Allen said. “They have no clue what they're doing." The couple—who are categorized as "independent owner-operators"—crisscross the U.S. in an 18-wheel truck that they are close to paying off, hauling consumer goods under contract. Allen, who is 66-years-old, estimates the rules will idle their truck by at least one extra day each week and cut the couple's annual $300,000 revenue by $36,000. They earned about $50,000 combined last year after expenses, he said.

While he acknowledges that long weeks of 70 hours or more aren't uncommon, he also explains that fatigue isn't an issue in their case, since he and his wife take turns at the wheel while the other sleeps in the back. Allen also points out that federal statistics are showing a steady decline in truck-driver crashes. "Look at the stats, brother. We've been doing better and better and better and better out here," Mr. Allen said. "I don't need these people telling me how to stay alive."

It is a fact that truck-crash fatality numbers have been trending down over the past decade, but the department's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said fatigue-related crashes are still too prevalent, and that the latest rules aim to reduce crashes while minimizing the impact on the industry.

"My mission is to save lives," said Anne Ferro, the agency's chief. Ferro also contends the new rules could help reduce the industry's high turnover, which she attributed to tough working conditions, such as long workweeks.

The government also continues to stress that only about 15% of the nation's 1.55 million long-haul truckers would be affected, since many don't have routes that require such long hours.