More Trucking Deaths May Be Caused by Drivers Racing the Clock

October 31, 2018 by Alan Adler, @AlanAdler

Truckers racing to beat the federal rule requiring a rest break after driving for eight hours could be contributing to increased fatal crashes involving big rigs, according to some in the industry.

Deaths from large truck crashes reached their highest level in 29 years in 2017, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data.

“Drivers feel like they literally have a gun to their head,” Todd Spencer, president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, told Trucks.com. “The typical response was to turn up the maximum permissible speeds on the trucks to allow drivers to make up some time.”

In 2017, 37,133 people died in motor vehicle crashes, a 2 percent decline from the prior year. But large-truck fatalities rose 9 percent to 4,761, an increase of 392 lives lost over the prior year. About 1,300 of the deaths were truckers. The remaining 72 percent occurred in the other vehicle involved in the collision.

Looking at trucks in the largest weight segment, Class 8, deaths climbed by 221 in 2017 from 2016 to 3,844. That’s a 4 percent increase for trucks that weigh more than 33,000 pounds.

Jim Mullen, FMCSA

“We hear a lot of drivers saying because of a lack of flexibility, we’re speeding,” said Jim Mullen, chief counsel for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. “I hope they’re not putting themselves and the motoring public in danger just to get their freight from Point A to Point B because of the regulations.”

Mullen said that while drivers may be speeding, he doesn’t think there is link between truck fatalities and the federal hours-of-service rule. The regulation limits driving to 11 hours in a 14-hour period with a 30-minute break at eight hours.

But regulators are considering modifications. The FMCSA is reviewing 5,200 comments to proposed changes in the hours-of-service rule. The 30-minute break received the most comments, Mullen said.

The rest break is “the dumbest rule I’ve ever heard of,” said Luke Foster, who hauls cars for Romulus, Mich.-based United Road. He said the forced downtime increases his fatigue. The 61-year-old driver prefers working 11 hours straight before resting.

“You put me on break, sometimes I’ve got to ride with the window down to stay awake,” Foster said.

Truckers who do speed are getting caught and ticketed more often, said Duane DeBruyne, an FMCSA spokesman. Speeding remains the No. 1 cause of fatal crashes. But speed has been responsible for a declining percentage of fatal crashes involving big trucks for three consecutive years, DeBruyne said.

Some truckers attribute the deaths to bad driving habits.

“The younger drivers who are now getting into trucking are bringing along their bad driving habits,” said Jeromy Hodges, a retired trucker from Victoria, Texas.

Hodges recalled seeing one trucker driving with both feet on the dash and the vehicle on cruise control. He also sees truckers texting.

He retired in 2016 because it had become “such a dangerous job with all the distracted drivers out there. I didn’t want to press my luck any longer.”

Driver monitoring through on-board technology could help reduce crashes.

Software developer Trimble Inc., which offers a suite of driver analytics that measure factors including seat belt use, hard braking and speeding, is partnering with Pulsar Infomatics to monitor how fatigue affects driving behaviors. A digital scorecard lets motor carriers reward, coach or even fire drivers based on how well they drive.

Fatigue and lack of sleep are cited as danger signs in multiple studies of truck driver safety.

Most crashes in which the trucker was at fault and judged to be sleepy or fatigued occurred at least 20 miles from a rest area or truck stop, according to a study in the November 2017 edition of Accident Analysis & Prevention.

Many in the industry attribute driver fatigue to a lack of accessible and safe parking.

Truckers voted safe rest areas as their second-greatest concern following hours-of-service rules changes in the latest Top 10 challenges compiled by the American Transportation Research Institute. Motor carriers voted it their ninth-highest priority. That made it the No. 5 concern overall.

FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez said additional safe rest areas for drivers need to be part of any infrastructure bill. President Donald Trump called for a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan in his 2016 campaign.

The answer is more full-service truck stops, said Barry Pottle, chairman of the American Trucking Associations. He said five rest areas in his home state of Maine have closed in the last year because there is no money to operate them.

Nearly two-thirds of car-truck collisions are caused by the drivers of passenger cars, said Chris Spear, the ATA’s chief executive. He said distracted driving is the major reason. Technologies like automatic emergency braking, included on most new heavy-duty trucks, could help reduce crashes. Automatic braking becomes standard on passenger cars in 2022. Spear said automatic braking, combined with vehicle-to-vehicle communications, could put all highway fatalities “on the road to zero.”

But FMCSA’s Mullen said driver-assist features could be causing some truck drivers to pay less attention.

“Distracted driving absolutely is rising, and it’s problematic,” he said. “We’re trying to juggle having sufficient technology to assist the driver but not overwhelm him or her or create complacency.”

Read Next: Advanced Tech No Guarantee of Lower Truck Insurance Rates

23 Responses

  1. Michael Siedlecki

    How can this be a surprise to anyone? Taking away a driver’s flexibility to stop and rest when conditions warrant, and resume operations when conditions become more favorable is a bad idea. Rush-hour traffic, bad weather, or just feeling tired… once the clock is started, there’s no stopping it under the current rules. It’s “ready, set, go”! And when the clock does stop, you’re done. If you haven’t made it to your destination, too bad. This regulatory rigidity negatively affects attitude, decision-making and fatigue. That’s right, fatigue! Wasn’t that what the rules were supposed to address?

    Reply
    • Lindy Starr

      I am so GLAD there is a driver shortage, aren’t you? Can’t find a safe parking place now after 5pm, once the shortage is addressed, won’t be any hardly at all. Let’s be realistic, all across the country you see more and more signs that rest areas are supported in part by insurance companies or trucking companies. It’s a good model. More realism: rest areas are like glass palaces………….just to use the head? Look at the last rest area on I 90 in Wisconsin, you could hold a Bible ralley in it it is so grand. Gas taxes: we need an investigation into how the states have diverted the current tax into their pet projects thru the general fund.
      AAAAAAAAND!!!!!!1 All the lip flapping by ATA and the fmcsa legal beagle? Read MY lips please: pay us for all hours worked and you end the problem of speed caused accidents; and it isn’t speeding per se, but, like we are being forced to do, we get up now at 5 am and go the speed limit everywhere, which will cost us an extra $10,000 in fuel costs this year. You heard the saying: for the lack of a horseshoe, the war was lost? Well, for the fmcsa’s refusal to mandate that we get paid for all our hours, the “war” against the hos will continue to be lost.

      Reply
      • mousekiller

        I seriously doubt the number of drivers has much to do with parking. It is the drivers that cannot,will not think for themselves and stop when they need to due to the constantly ticking clock that say they have several hrs to the mandatory break So they push themselves and since most start at nearly the same time each day they all arrive at the same time. . Non thinking, unwilling. Afraid to leave time on the ELD.

    • Pam

      You have made my husband more tired. You tell him when to sleep then if u have to wind down its 3 hours sleep then before he slept when he was tired..sometimes he go down the road take a nsp 2 hours or so then 8 later after at the destination..its not working!

      Reply
  2. Ronald Hammett

    Article says most accidents occur 20 miles from rest areas or truck stops. I am seeing a lot of rest areas that are closed and blocked off. Weigh stations that can handle truck parking also. Why? Plenty of places that can handle trucks are off limit to us. That leads to drivers parking on ramps due to truck stops being full. States need to help provide more safe parking, and police could also help by ticketing cars that cut us off.

    Reply
  3. Scott George

    I keep hearing the ATA making comments about more automated devices put in trucks that’s part of the problem these young drivers rely upon them and have terrible driving habits. They drive with their feet on the dash with cruise control on don’t signal ect. And the ATA pushing for even younger drivers so far all the things that the ATA has pushed for to help the large corporation trucking companies is back firing on them and its creating more problems and getting people and drivers killed

    Reply
  4. Alan pennington

    Because of the new registration and hours of service. You have put to many inexperienced drivers on the road. You put that with the drivers chasing the clock. It’s a receipt for disasters

    Reply
  5. Steve Wise

    I’ve never been pushed to go as hard by an dispatcher in 30 years of driving as I have by an E-LOG.

    Reply
    • Bonnie

      E-logs are the drivers worst enemy bc most drivers are not taught how to use them properly. Some companies put them in the trucks bc they are mandated too, and even the companies log department doesn’t know how to use them. Some e-logs jump ahead by ten to fifteen minutes while the truck is moving without the driver putting in their info, my husband is always running out of hours with his e-logs bc of a glitch in the system. And why are the dispatchers always asking the drivers for their log hrs if these e-logs are supposed to keep up with the hrs.

      Reply
      • stephen

        My truck went on fire in a 2005 western star 4 weeks ago from the E-log. The insurance company says this is happening a lot in the older trucks ( pre 2007) The E-log trucks in Ontario Canada are getting most of the speeding tickets. Brampton city police have stated that all the bad tractor trailer accidents this year happened with E-log equipped trucks within the city limits. This despite over 50 % of the trucks in Bramptom are still on paper. ( in Canada E-logs are not required if do not run in the U.S. We need to fine all receivers who do not provide parking to complete the truck drivers 10 hour break. E-logs were pushed to get rid of small companies and farmers with 1 to 3 trucks and get rates higher. In 2006 the Federal gov. in Canada said truck drivers were underpaid and should be paid like a trade for all hours worked.I have towed out of parking lots with no hours. ordered to leave by the police receivers by no hours.

  6. Marc Robinson

    The biggest issue is not the 30 minute break. That’s just a pointer towards the real problem, which is the 14 hour clock. The “rush! rush! rush!” mentality started when they instituted the 14 hour clock, which was mandated years before the addition of the 30 minute break. Many of the older, seasoned drivers predicted this exact outcome when they first announced the 14 hour clock. Sadly, they were right.
    Texting and driving is also becoming an increasingly serious problem, too, and that also can be partially attributed to the 14 hour clock. Almost all truck drivers use hands-free devices for voice calls, so talking on the phone is not the issue… but while drivers once used truck stop payphone and a memo pad for dispatch information, they now cannot afford to stop and write down information without cutting into their 14 hour clock, so many drivers depend on text messages from their dispatchers in place of making a stop to call for information to write down.
    ATA should check their statistics. Unless there was a change since then, the last official government study that I know of, put the number of cars that caused car vs truck collisions at around 85%. Unless they’re calculating their averages including all of car caused accidents that involved trucks vs all the truck accidents including cars AND all of the truck accidents including trucks only. That’s unfair math, likely to justify the ATA’s motivation to increase collusion avoidance technology in trucks (which is a really BAD IDEA, too). It’s only helpful to the really large companies, because mandating technology is placing a huge burden on small companies, possibly driving them out of business. The big companies only have to make a few cents per mile (multiplied by hundreds or thousands of trucks) to remain profitable. It also substitutes computer algorithms for high quality driver training and monitoring. The most dangerous part of technology centered safety systems, us that drivers will be dumbed down after becoming reliant on computerized technology (for example, with the advent of cell phones, how many people still know more than a few phone numbers by heart? And what if it was brake measurements, or gear-to-speed ratios that were forgotten, instead of phone numbers?). There is a need for a major overhaul in the hours of service.

    Reply
  7. Ron craig

    Instead of study after study which is a vast waste of time and money,why not make the US Hiwys one size applies to all,having a license is not a right,its a privelidge,How about instead of attacking the very soul of America you stomp the devil of the non cdl then the roads will be safe for all

    Reply
    • John

      I had a chinesse co driver who had a valad driver licence could not read english or drive how in the hell did this person get a valad licence in New York shortly after i retired 31 years accident free God bless the future truck drivers

      Reply
  8. flyin'j

    The more operational control the vehicle has the less opportunities for driver to learn/develop/practice/sharpen his/her/its ability to operate and maintain control over said vehicle. After long enough nobody will have the slightest idea what they’re doing anymore. A “Driver” will suddenly be a “Vehicle Operations Monitor.” PERIOD.

    You might ask, “But aren’t they also there to take control in hazardous situations/operating conditions?”

    NO! Not under ANY circumstances save for under strict supervision on a closed-course. Why? Because with all that sitting there bored stupid watching dials and clocks, when the going gets tough and the alarms start the tough will realize they haven’t got a clue and it’ll be catastrophe with a dash of tragedy, before the truck can finish saying “Hazardous Conditions: Self-Drive On.”

    Maybe according to some corporate fat-cat suit dummy the “driver” is an “emergency countermeasure”…or maybe suit dummy is a lying sack of shit and it’s actually defined as “Stool Pigeon” or “Fall Guy.”

    Basically just your “Designated Asshole At-Fault” liability absorber. That way when one of these computer controlled commercial cruise missiles gets into a freak snowstorm and obliterates a dozen cars waiting at a stop light, or decides to avoid traffic by detouring through that elementary school over there at 65MPH because its mapping software is out of date and that school wasn’t there before, cause will be determined that dingus at the drivers desk was too distracted diddling his dink to notice. Truck company/owner will throw his ass directly under the bus, insurance will replace the equipment, lives will be lost, families destroyed, the general public will hate truckers a little bit more.

    Conveniently however, the irresponsible and reckless disregard for human life and limb on the part of the manufacturer will be quietly swept under the rug because they’re INGENIOUS.
    INDUSTRIOUS. They’re IMPROVING the INDUSTRY.

    IDIOTS

    Reply
  9. Steven

    In my opinion another big factor in fatigues and crash involving trucks is Shipper/Receiver.
    If a truck is late or early that driver could be paying a heavy price including delay for pick or delivery and sometime that price could be huge including lost income for days or penalties from shipping/receiving.
    More over due to less flexibility in time that driver has to speed to make time from traffic delays and time lost in construction sites over the highway.
    Many are building huge brand new buildings with zero parking in mind for truckers and not just inside of their property but those roads connecting those huge buildings are with signs all over for trucks that reads TRUCK NO PARKING.
    And next town is 10 miles away.

    Reply
  10. ds

    The hos and 30 min break is a absolute joke and non realistic . Drivers that know when not to go thru Chicago rush hours(or any big city) are now forced to go thru them because of there non stop 14 hour clock.. So instead of them making a wise decision and pulling over before the mess and a better risk of not having a accident and less STRESS, they have to go thru it and put even more traffic in the disaster already… So now instead of sitting in a truck stop or rest area and are safe till its free flowing, they get to go sit in traffic and stop and go for a couple hours, not getting anywhere anyways and putting themselves in danger, just because the fmsca and all these people that think they know everything about the trucking industry because of statistics and looking at a piece a paper… Its not really the elog thats the problem at all. It’s the hours of service.

    Reply
  11. art

    It has become a race against the clock because the government has over regulated driving.
    Life is not black or white. There must be flexibility or chaos occurs.
    Great job democrats who never held a real middle class job.

    Reply
  12. Mark

    Your spot on. I save a swift going down the vine. Although I was speeding I explained to the other trucker how to slow his truck. He said he though automatic breaking ment he didnt have to worry the truck brakes did it for him.

    Reply
  13. mousekiller

    These modern day FMCSA rule makers have no clue. It matters not how many times they meet with drivers they don’t listen nor understand. Not one FMCSA employee that has any control or say so in rule making has ever used a CDL to earn a living. I’v been out here in a CMV for over half century. We used to be able to stop the clock when WE wanted and no penalty as we could stop the clock. No issues and no parking problems. Before you run off at the mouth there were far fewer trucks stops and rest areas to be used by truckers and we still managed to do our job safely. The last 25 or so years we have seen fewer qualified drivers enter the industry. They have no clue how to be observant of their surroundings, lack the ability to plan ahead and to be able to adapt if that plan fails. . The biggest failing I have seen is far too many lack any kind of work ethic and have next to nothing in the personal pride dept.. They have this mantra of” I can dress and behave any way I want” resulting in the dumpster diver appearance and performance in the industry. . See how that has worked out.Let us the drivers behind the wheel decide when to stop the truck for any reason we see the need for and any number of times and with out penalty. Stopping the truck should stop the clock. Safety nap. A sit down healthy meal. To wait out rush hour traffic. It is called safety.We had fewer hours to do the job of driving many years ago as apposed to the 11 hrs today and we still got it done with fewer problems. . Wonder why? We worked together was a big part of it and could think for ourselves.Imaging that , being able to think for ourselves. What a concept.

    Reply
  14. Genald bujold

    The elog is the whorst thing that à driver could have on his dash #1 when you wait to get unload hrs ans hrs so you get stuck on the dock and This is it you cant move ! I Work for a cpie who haul coke pétrol and it take so much Time to get load that you cant go anywhere or you are going ti wait for at least 18 hrs Time to reset and wait again beind the others truckers so usualy the elog keep me awake 36 hrs strait Time without sleeping of coors I Stuart my day a 2 hrs un the morning to get the customer a 14 hrs pm and then get the load at 23h00 at night and of coors to cross Toronto you dont have choice you cross at night or it is a Big tree hrs to drive about 60 miles so you keep going that wath happen at Imperial oil at Sarnia Ontario and most driver does it un Canada 🇨🇦 they dont stop and dont sleep juste because of the elog whitch Count the minutes strait Time so this systheme one day is going to kill peuples more on Road than never!

    Reply
  15. Steve

    At least once per week I find myself rushing to beat the clock because of the 11 hour or the 14 hour rule. We need to have more flexibility. The company I work with had 3 drivers attacked since the first of March of this year. My truck has been broken once. The local police have told me at least 7 times in the past nine months were I was parked was not safe. I told them I had no hours on E log I have been towed from Walmart . I was told if I did not leave a C and S warehouse in dopois PA that would be arrested. The police promised me something in writing it took 3 days and a lawyer to get. The whole thing comes down to money. My truck burnt up 3 weeks ago with me in the bunk when the E log caught on fire. The insurance company will not pay for the damages because E-logs are not covered. I have living in a homeless shelter for the past 3 weeks in Brampton Ontario Canada. 716 800 5814 The C T. A. or the A.T.A. do not seem to care that accidents in Ontario Canada we’re up over 40 percent April 1 this year to September 1 this year to last year for large trucks . The M T.O. has said fines by customers is the number one cause under limited time to run.We need a different model of pay no more late fines for traffic or weather. under E-logs. A minimum rates of pay local $ 23.50 per hour O.T.R. of $28.00 per hour plus overtime pay after 10 hours per day or 50 hours per week. 716 800 5814

    Reply

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