Asleep at the Wheel

There are guys who can barely scrape a hundred thousand miles out of their logs in a year. Then there are other guys who run around 175,000 miles a year and never log more than nine hours a day driving time.

By most estimates 3,300 miles is the limit a man can drive under the current 70-hour eight-day rule, so a driver doing 175,000 a year is averaging slightly above that figure.

Hard runners may be driving for small outfits where logs are not audited very well, but others are running for big outfits with software programs that keep drivers well within the legal limits. And some fleets can stretch the limits of the law without actually ripping it to shreds.

I never wanted to run that hard. Yes, I had some tricks up my sleeve, different tricks for different outfits, depending on how much they actually wanted their drivers to run a legal log rather than simply turn in a legal log. Only in later years did I have the chance to keep and run a legal log. I got more sleep, but to be honest I was still pretty tired a lot of the time.

Running for some big carriers is all about productivity – miles run and loads delivered. There are big outfits that can make it possible for you to run 3,300 miles a week, keep the DOT happy and ruin your health. For them there is no room in this productivity equation to worry about the personal health of the human being doing the work. If you’ve been driving more than six months you know the log will sometimes make you drive when you’re tired and require you to sleep when you’re wide awake. You may get your eight hours off. You may even sleep some of it. But it will not be the kind of sleep that cancels what scientists call your sleep debt, the cumulative negative effect of missing sleep at the right time of day to restore your body, your mind, and your energy.

Scientists have known for a long time about sleep debt and the fact that eight hours of sleep when you don’t need it is just this side of worthless. Why this is not common knowledge among truck drivers, who by most accounts are the most at-risk work group for fatigue-related injuries and deaths, remains a question. What they know should be shouted from the rooftops. Then, perhaps, those carriers and bosses who wring the final mile out of the log and push drivers too far would hear it and get their priorities straight.

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Consider two simple things you may be overlooking. Drowsiness is the last sign of fatigue, not the first. It means you need sleep and your body will sooner or later require it of you, whether you’re behind the wheel or somewhere less life-threatening. Snoring is a sign you are not getting enough oxygen and your body is trying to get more.

Sleep is in large measure the human way to restore depleted oxygen levels. This is what revitalizes you. When you snore, you’re sleeping but it is very poor quality sleep. You wake up tired.

Sleeping well, which means sleeping when your body tells you to sleep, can change your life. You may not even know you’re sick, but the health effects of lack of sleep, or poor sleep, are as real as the effects of all those fatburgers and all that grease that will eventually coat your arteries.

You can’t expect the bureaucrats to help you. Hours-of-service reform stalled in 2000, and there’s no chance of a successful revival any time soon.

And there are only so many bosses that will get behind a safety or personal health effort that is not mandated by the feds. Instead of being industry leaders, too many are industry followers. They are asleep at the wheel, afraid to risk current money for the future profits that would inevitably come if they simply did the right thing rather than the legal thing.

You’ve got to save your own life. That’s the way it is.

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