Confusion over ‘relaxed’ regs and rested drivers

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Updated Sep 19, 2019

“You’re not getting enough sleep — and it’s killing you,” reads the wired.com headline on a story by Emily Dreyfuss. She was reporting on a talk by Matthew Walker, author of the best-selling book “Why We Sleep.”

The UC Berkeley sleep expert said sleep deprivation “makes you dumber, more forgetful, unable to learn new things, more vulnerable to dementia.” Applied to truckers, many of whom know sleep deprivation all too well, this trend line doesn’t bode well for long-term health or short-term success and safety.

The proposal’s provisions for pausing the 14-hour clock, including some split-sleeper changes, are intended to provide greater flexibility in handling congestion and other scheduling problems.The proposal’s provisions for pausing the 14-hour clock, including some split-sleeper changes, are intended to provide greater flexibility in handling congestion and other scheduling problems.

Reading this shortly after the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced its proposed hours of service revisions, I was reminded that the hours rule is ultimately about a trucker’s quantity and quality of rest, mainly sleep. That’s easy to forget when you’re mentally reconfiguring on-duty and off-duty – and the other subdivisions of hours –  like some temporal Rubik’s Cube, trying to envision how changes would align in the real world.

It gets worse when those outside of trucking presume safety performance goes up or down in lockstep with changes in cherry-picked numbers. This led, for example, to widespread reports that the proposal would “relax” existing regulations, thereby automatically increasing fatigue.

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, for example, opposed all five changes offered by FMCSA: “Any proposal that increases pressure on truck drivers … should be rejected.” The group says allowing a duty clock pause of up to three hours would create “a driving window of up to 17 hours. Research shows that driving later in the duty period is associated with higher crash risks.” But is a driver who just rested two hours going to be a higher crash risk than one “pressured,” as AHAS might say, to drive during an urban rush hour at the end of a 14-hour window?

On the other hand, as some drivers pointed out, certain shippers and receivers will commandeer those three hours to mask their inefficiencies. Not only would this enable unnecessary detention, it also could make rest impossible, given the sporadic interruptions common during dock waits.

FMCSA seems to get how the existing rule creates the worst pressures. Giving drivers more freedom to manage those pressures in a common-sense way at least creates more potential windows for rest. Perhaps as comments shape the final rule, the agency will find a way to prevent supply chain players from creating new pressure by exploiting the three-hour option. The public comment period on the proposal ends Oct. 7. Comments can be filed online.

Better-rested drivers not only will be more alert on the job, they also should have a longer lifespan. Walker’s list of the woes of the sleep-deprived continues: “more likely to die of a heart attack, less able to fend off sickness with a strong immune system, more likely to get cancer.”

If the hours proposal can help save the lives of not just four-wheelers, but also the truckers they share the road with, so much the better.

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