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Fatigue at the Wheel – Truckers and their 18,000 pound machines


You have been there. Catch yourself getting more fatigued with each mile post that goes by you on the highway. It is dangerous and if you are smart, you pull over and rest; for the night, at least for several hours.

Why? You are as impaired when you become fatigued as you would be if you had been drinking.

Now, pretend you are operating an 18,000 pound tractor trailer down the highway in tat fatigued condition. Truck drivers face that every day; that tough decision to rest or “keep on trucking”.

Commercial truck drivers and the carriers employing them must follow drivers’ hours of service regulations to avoid fatigued truck drivers on the roadways. Federal law limits commercial driving shifts to 14 hours. Only 11 of those hours can be behind the wheel. And the driver must then follow that time with 10 consecutive hours off-duty, but that can still result in a 70 hour work week for some truck drivers.

Truck Accident

Currently, truck drivers maintain paper logs and manually write down their on and off duty hours. Since 1988, the US Department of Transportation has been slowly trying to work toward requiring onboard, electronic logging devices (ELD) that would automatically monitor driver hours of operation through:

  • Integral synchronization with the CMV engine, to automatically capture engine power status, vehicle motion status, miles driven, engine hours.
  • Require automated entry at each change of duty status and at 60-minute intervals while the commercial motor vehicle is in motion.
  • By presenting a graph grid of driver’s daily duty status changes either on a display unit or on a printout.
  • An ELD must not permit alteration or erasure of the original information collected concerning the driver’s ELD records or alteration of the source data streams used to provide that information. An ELD must support data integrity check functions.
  • An ELD must have the capability to monitor its compliance (engine connectivity, timing, positioning, etc.) for detectable malfunctions and data inconsistencies. The ELD must record these occurrences.

A study conducted for the USDOT revealed the following in interviews with carriers:

  • 61 percent indicated that their company exclusively uses paper logs to track drivers’ duty status
  • 27 percent indicated that they exclusively use ELDs
  • 12 percent use both paper and ELDs

Interestingly, whether a company had instituted ELD’s was driven by the company size. 42% of the ELD exclusive carriers represented companies with less than 100 trucks in their fleet.

Professional truck drivers who insist they comply with federal regulations can often face harassing activity by trucking companies, including:

  • Always have to wait 2–3 days for fuel card.
  • 14 hours can be shortened to 10 or 8 hours.
  • Disciplinary action.
  • If you don’t do as they say they won’t give you any loads.
  • Low miles and not enough pay.
  • Pushing to drive when tired.
  • Threats of firing.
  • Safety maintenance records.
  • When truck needs service and the operator needs to take it to shop they get mad.
  • Withheld pay.

Typically, drivers are paid by the hour or by the number of miles driven. Both can be motivations for fabricating paper work to increase the hours or miles the driver can drive; which increase the driver’s income and revenues to the trucking company.

In 2012, 3116 people were killed in crashes involving large trucks and 93,000 were injured. If ELD’s will reduce those tragic numbers, it should be instituted sooner, rather than later.

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