March 14, 2005

New rule for U.S. trucks isn’t improving safety

Arlington, Virginia – A new Insurance Institute for Highway Safety survey shows that drivers of interstate trucks spend more time behind the wheel under a 2004 federal work rule than they did previously. The rule lengthens the mandatory rest period by two hours, but lets drivers stay on the road an extra hour each day. Allowable driving hours in a 7-day period has increased from 60 to 77 under a work-week restart provision.

One-quarter of the drivers surveyed said they drive more than the new daily limit of 11 hours, and eight out of 10 said they take advantage of the restart provision, which allows them to drive 25 per cent more in a week.

Drivers report slightly more instances of driving while drowsy, or falling asleep at the wheel, than in the previous year under the old work rule. The percentage of drivers reporting that they dozed off while driving rose from 13 per cent in 2003 to 15 per cent in 2004.

“Studies show that fatigue is a significant factor in truck crashes,” says Anne McCartt, Institute vice president for research. “The new rule was supposed to improve safety, but our survey shows the opposite. Truckers are using the restart provision to squeeze even more driving hours into the week.”

Work hour enforcement is an ongoing problem because logbooks can be easily falsified. The survey shows that this has not changed, with a third of drivers surveyed saying they “sometimes” or “often” omit hours from their logbooks. A proposal to include tamper-resistant electronic onboard recorders was dropped before the new rule went into effect. “Without electronic recorders,” McCartt says, “the rule can’t be enforced effectively.”

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