IH 35 is a bit unique in that it spans from the southern border with Mexico to the northern border with Canada. But no matter where you are along the highway, you face a grave danger of being involved in a trucking accident. And yesterday’s Minneapolis Star Tribune had a good article, based in large part on an I35 truck wreck, about one of those risks — tired truck drivers.
For the most part, truck drivers are supposed to be limited in the number of hours they can drive. In 2005, the hours-of-service rules were amended to require a little more rest for drivers. Since that time, the number of fatal trucking accidents has decreased. But it’s still a problem. From the article:
While things are headed in the right direction nationally, annual fatalities in big truck wrecks are still the equivalent of a jetliner crashing once a week, said Steve Keppler of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.
“If that many plane crashes were happening,” Keppler said, “people would be up in arms and the air traffic system would be shut down.”
And a lot of these trucking accident fatalities are caused by fatigue. You need look no further than the 2005 legislation to see how fatigue contributes to trucking accidents. While the 2005 legislation lowered hours-of-service for most drivers, it also exempted a number of drivers, including those in the agricultural, utility and construction fields. While the rate of fatalities have gone down since the new rules, the accidents involving utility trucks are up 57 percent since their drivers were exempted.
And much of the trucking industry continues to put its head in the sand and say that weary drivers aren’t a problem. In the article, the spokesman for the American Trucking Association called wrecks caused by fatigue “a very small problem.” The trucking industry also sued the Minnesota State Patrol in 2009 to stop police from using a “fatigued driver checklist” to keep truckers off the road.
It’s this attitude that makes trucking cases so interesting. Because of regulations, drivers are required to keep a log of their driving time. But in many cases, the log is altered or the drivers maintain two or more logs to help hide the amount of time that they’re really driving.
Maybe the problem was best summed up by an unidentified driver in the article:
I don’t get paid while I’m sitting waiting to load and unload. My fixed costs doesn’t allow me to run legal…I sleep four hours a night. It isn’t out of choice. It’s finances.
I beg to differ. It is a choice. And it’s a choice that’s putting all of us at risk.