From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Safety Experts Consider Implications of Changes to Truckers’ Hours

Regulations announced in August add an hour to the length of time a commercial truck driver in the United States can stay behind the wheel without taking a rest. Regarded as a gift for the trucking and retail industries, the now 11-hour workday is three hours longer than safety experts recommend for drivers.

Announcing the Hours of Service (HOS), the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) of the US Department of Transportation promoted them as safety measures. The HOS will keep drivers healthy and reduce the 5.5 percent of fatal truck crashes that are caused by driver fatigue, said FMCSA Administrator Annette M. Sandberg.

Apart from the 11-hour limit, the regulations prohibit truckers from working longer than 14 hours in a shift and driving more than 60 hours over a 7-day period or 70 hours over an 8-day period. Truckers must also rest for at least 10 hours between shifts and use a 34-hour period to recover from cumulative fatigue.

A sleeper berth provision and rules applying to short-haul operators are new. Otherwise the regulations are similar to a set presented by the White House in 2003. Until that year truckers were limited to 10-hour stretches behind the wheel, a limit that had stood for 60 years. The 2003 rules saw the limit raised to 11 hours. In 2004 a federal court threw out the change, saying it failed to consider truckers’ health.

It appears many are skeptical about FMCSA assertions about the regulations and safety. The wire services and scores of newspapers around the country picked up the FMCSA announcement. Variations on “Business Trumps Safety,” a headline about the rules in the Winston-Salem Journal, were common themes.

Joan Claybrook, president of the Washington-based safety group Public Citizen, said drivers could drive 20 percent longer and spend 30 percent more time on duty under the new rule. “Trucks are going to continue to be rolling time bombs on the highway,” she told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Studies show the risk of deadly crashes significantly rises after the 10th and 11th hours of driving, she said.

Circadian Technologies, Inc., which advises corporations on issues related to the extended-hour workplace, finds fault with both the 2003 and 2005 versions of the rules. “The FMCSA has relied too much on hours off-duty to determine whether or not a driver is well-rested,” according to Martin Moore-Ede, M.D., Ph.D. He said the problem with focusing solely on “off-duty” time is that other factors, such as time of day, are ignored. “For example, many studies have shown that the length and quality of sleep is dependent on time of day. Therefore by forcing long-haul drivers to spend 8 consecutive hours in their sleeper berth from 11am to 7pm, when they are unlikely to get much sleep, is making them more tired on the roads.”

And there is nothing sound about the ergonomics of rules that push workers to extreme limits. Two recent articles in The Ergonomics Report