Waking Up To The Reality of Truck Driver Fatigue

by Jana Ritter - Published: 12/02/2013

Regulators want to solve the problem of driver fatigue, which is a hazard on American roadways, especially when it’s affecting the driver of a forty-ton truck. The FMCSA’s solution did not involve investigating why truck drivers work themselves to the brink of unconsciousness, or proposing changes to the system that motivates them to do this.

Leds truck

In the most recent bid to combat the July 1st HOS Regulations, U.S. Representatives Tom Rice and Richard Hanna cosponsored the TRUE Safety Act bill, and both met with FMCSA Administrator Anne Farro last week to point out some of the regulations’ flaws.

One good example they addressed was the 1-5 a.m. sleep rule forces truck drivers to drive during the day when the roads are already congested and the one good point Farro raised proved irrelevant to her defense of the new regulations was that current driver compensation is inadequate. Her point that was quickly cut off since her agency has made no efforts to remedy that specific problem.  

However, the greater issue was left unaddressed by both sides. Nobody raised the point that no trucker works over 70 hours per week on average because he enjoys it. No trucker wants to drive more than 11 hours per day, or avoid taking breaks. The problem here is specifically that driving safely costs the driver a significant amount of money.

Truckers are driven to skip breaks and work overtime because they are paid for results, not work. A driver wouldn’t feel any desire or pressure to drive dangerously – which often can involve speeding while fatigued in the middle of the night – if his paycheck was secure within the parameters of a normal, customary work day.

Drivers are, in fact, paid by the mile, not the hour, and that affects their priorities at work.

Any delay, including heavy traffic, breaks, sleeping, and eating, will cut into a truck driver’s pay. Trucking companies essentially force their employees to bear the financial risks of weather and traffic patterns rather than covering those themselves. The top 50 trucking companies alone made over $100 billion in profits last year. Asking them to shoulder the burdens of traffic and weather would not be an unreasonable thing to ask in the name of public safety.

While the issue is not particularly difficult to understand, regulators know that addressing these problems in the system by banning the piece-work pay system would cost the businesses money. Clearly it would cut into profits somewhat. But such a solution would solve the problem of driver fatigue and the labor abuses that port truckers in Los Angeles, Long Beach, and now Oakland have attempted to address though strikes and unionization efforts.

In an attempt to avoid stepping on the toes of big business, FMCSA avoided consideration of this solution. Instead, they have opted to adopt rules that help nobody in favor of something that could only look good to a bureaucrat.