Good day, ladies and gentlemen. I come before you to give testimony, and my thoughts, on the proposals regarding changes in the rest hours for commercial semi truck operators.
But first, let me make a distinction. True truck drivers are those who operate commercial semis, not pickup truck drivers, whose lack of real driving experience bastardizes the name "truck driver." And there is a world of difference in the experience between semi operators and pickup truck drivers. To a semi driver, a pickup truck driver is like comparing a 15-year-old with a learner's permit to his or her parents' driving abilities. Yet many states, like California, list fatigue-related accidents involving pickup trucks the same as if it was an 18-wheeler. One has to question how many states still do this, and what effect it has on statistics.
I myself was a semi truck driver for 13 years. Up until a drowsy driver caused an accident that left me permanently disabled and living on social security disability.
Now, I know that the issue you are addressing here is the problem of drowsy drivers getting proper rest. But I can tell you beyond any shadow of a doubt, that the driver that caused my injuries had taken the proper amount of time off to rest. How do I know this? I know this because the driver was my wife and co-driver.
That accident symbolizes the complexity of this issue. The problem of fatigued drivers goes far beyond the issue of the length of driving hours. A driver who has operated a truck for just 10 hours out of 24 can be no more rested than one who has operated for 16 out of 24, when you ignore the other causes of fatigue, as our accident showed. Nearly 50% of fatigue-related accidents involve team drivers, not single drivers. The issue of fatigue comes as much from the lack of government protection of drivers, and the lack of overall concern by trucking companies in the health and welfare of their drivers, as it does from drivers' hours.
There are many factors that can be addressed in decreasing fatigue-related accidents, and the number of driving hours are only one small part of the equation. Now, I'm not a public speaker, so I do not have the eloquence of politicians or political proponents that promote an issue without learning all the aspects of the issue. But it takes someone like me, who has seen the issue from both sides. Here are my suggestions:
1. Drivers should be allowed to rest while their trucks are being loaded and unloaded, rather than being required to do the work themselves or having to pay someone to do it. Drivers may make a good per-mile rate, but after paying the high cost of fuel, and what it costs to live on the road, there is comparably little left to send home. Paying a lumper to unload the truck takes away from their net send-home. So rules need to be put into place requiring warehouses to supply experienced loaders at their expense. Regardless of how many hours a driver is behind the wheel, adding up to five hours to that time for loading and unloading has a major effect on the driver's ability to operate safely.
2. Improve the quality of highways and make minimum requirements for sleepers. The primary problem that existed with my wife and I, which caused her to doze off, was the fact that this nation's highways are very rough. In my time on the road, coming across Nebraska was like taking a ride in NASA's "Vomit Comet." The dips in the highway would cause the person trying to sleep to become airborne every couple of miles. In addition to devoting more money to highways, what needs to be done is to set minimum standards for trucks used by team drivers, such as air-ride suspensions.
3. Drivers should undergo a sleep deprivation study every two years. Many drivers may not agree with this, but I believe it would not only address the problems of fatigue, but also their long-term health. A research grant should be issued to a medical center to do a study into sleep deprivation and sleep apnea in truck drivers, and to develop a CPAP system (a device used to treat sleep apnea) that can be used in trucks. In addition, research the amount of carbon monoxide that truck drivers breathe in while sleeping in truckstops.
4. Drivers need more protection under the law from unscrupulous trucking companies and shippers who try to force them to run excessive hours. Granted, the driver can quit and go to work for another company - but not if he or she is one of the thousands of new drivers coming into the field that take their training through a company-sponsored trucking school where they will be liable for their tuition if they don't work for the company for a specified amount of time.
As I stated before, driver fatigue is much more complex than simply saying that drivers run too many hours. If we are to address driver fatigue, we need to address the issue as a whole, and not one part that only penalizes the drivers who are trying to make a living making it possible for all of us to live the cozy lifestyle we have come to be used to.