I hate rules, but there’s one I like, namely the ban on cell-phone use while driving. It’s a long way from universal state to state, but New York has just gotten very tough indeed on truck-driver use of cellular tools, and that’s fine by me.
Among the others that get me seething, I have a particular hatred of hours-of-service rules, or at least of their nonsensically arbitrary nature.
If I were out there hauling widgets from A to B and back again, I’d go crazy in no time. Every day I’d find myself looking for a non-existent parking spot when the law demanded it but my body would be saying, ‘Whaaat? Already?’ And then I’d spend a few hours wide awake, bored stiff, the frustration growing with every minute. When the numbers said I was good to go again, I’d likely be ready for a nap within an hour or three – but unable to take it because I’d never get the widgets to Wisconsin in time if I did.
And at that point I’d be legal but dangerous.
My body’s rhythms aren’t typical. I don’t need a lot of sleep; actually don’t even like it much. My normal bedtime is about 3 a.m., and I’m back at the keyboard somewhere between 8:30 and 9:30 a.m. Alert, too, if not very chatty.
But my particulars don’t matter. The point is that “typical” is hard to define. I’ll bet that many thousands of truck drivers are just as atypical as me. The rules, such as they presently are, were built by wildly scientific calculations based on means and averages, and they may well fit most drivers more or less. But I’d bet you could quantify “most” in the 50% to 60% range. The rest? Well, they suck it up. Or they get all gnarly. Maybe they leave the industry.
There has to be a better way.
A ban on cell-phone use while driving didn’t make sense to me at first, and I’m a little surprised by my turnaround. But now I find myself angry when I see another driver blabbing away on his iPhone and ignoring the road in the process. I’m usually the first one to say “to each his own,” but not when my life is endangered.
I don’t even like the hands-free solution. There’s still a bit of button-pushing to do, and then there’s the distraction of the subsequent conversation. So more often than not I’ll pull over if I have to make a call or receive one that’s going to demand much of my brain.
Frankly, having examined my own cell use pretty carefully, I’m somewhat reluctantly tempted to suggest banning use of the damn things in vehicles entirely.
But how far down that road should we go? The list of on-the-road distractions is a lengthy one. Like the search for a new CD to shove in the stereo.
Chomping on a Big Mac. Billboards with clever lines or pretty girls or phone numbers you just have to catch. Do we ban all that?
And what do we do about some of the biggest distractions of all? Like worry over making the next truck payment. Like re-living and regretting the fight you had with your mate this morning. Like fretting about your kid’s problems in school. Obviously there’s no controlling any of that.
Fact is, we cannot mandate a perfect world. The best we can do is limit risk where there’s an obvious – really obvious – gain to be had, hoping all the while that common sense will prevail.
Rolf Lockwood is vice president, editorial, at Newcom Business Media, which publishes Today’s Trucking. He writes for HDT each month on the making, maintaining and using of trucks.