Linda Longton, Editor
Timothy Cotton, who hauls for musical groups, last summer checked into an Orlando hotel at 10 a.m. for his 10-hour break. He reported for work at 11:45 p.m. and left for his 682-mile trip to Nashville at midnight, a trip he regularly completes within 11 hours. Seven hours into the trip, he felt extremely fatigued and knew he had to rest. He pulled into a truck stop, climbed into the sleeper and slept soundly for six hours. Then he drove safely to Nashville in his remaining four hours of driving time.
Logic says Cotton did the right thing. But he readily admits he broke the law by driving outside the 14-hour clock. “Had I continued to drive that day, I know I would have killed myself or some innocent person in a horrible wreck,” he says.
Cotton told his story in comments to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in support of an initiative proposed by Dart Transit of Eagan, Minn., that would exempt 200 of its owner-operators for two years from the 14-hour clock and split rest limitations adopted in 2005. Dart maintains that the 14-hour window penalizes truckers who stop to nap and the split rest requirement encourages truckers who drive at night to take all their rest during the day, even though research shows nighttime sleep is more effective.
Drivers surveyed by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association say the current rule’s lack of flexibility makes them more likely to drive tired. “Drivers should be encouraged to rest without penalty,” said OOIDA President Jim Johnston in a letter submitted to FMCSA in support of Dart’s proposal.
The idea also gets a thumbs-up from owner-operator Robert Griggs, who echoes the concerns of many truckers who find it difficult to adjust to the new rules. “Between 2000 and January 2004, I was never late to pick up or deliver a load because I overslept,” he told FMCSA. But because he now drives straight through 11 hours without a nap, he’s so exhausted at bedtime that he oversleeps and has “missed appointments no less than four times,” he says.
If FMCSA grants the exemption, Dart will take applications from owner-operators and conduct health screenings to rule out those at risk for sleep disorders. Participating owner-operators would have their fatigue risk analyzed daily and their rest monitored using electronic on-board recorders.
By combining reasonable flexibility with stringent safety monitoring, the Dart program could be a step toward modifying the rule to better suit the real-world conditions drivers face. Cotton speaks for many when he says: “I eat when my body tells me I’m hungry. I sleep when my body tells me it needs rest. Please don’t penalize me for trying to do my job in the safest way I know how.”