Trucks and Sleep

October 3, 2010

If you happen to trust that truck drivers are alert because their work-hours are limited by regulations…


The “hours of service” system is completely corrupt.
Violations are routine.

The Most Common Fraud of All:  “Speed Logging”

The over-whelming majority of drivers does some version of speed logging.
At each stop, the distance travelled is divided by the local speed limit. This imaginary amount of time is recorded as time spent driving, the rest is logged as if they had been taking a break (“off duty”).
After driving through traffic jams in any major city, or slogging through a snow storm this can easily extend the day by a few hours.

Speed logging is a great example of the government, trucking and insurance companies failing to enforce the law.

The danger of Loading/Unloading delays

Trucks spend a lot of time waiting for their freight to be loaded and unloaded.  An hour of two is a lucky break. It is not uncommon for this to drag one much longer.  In theory, this time is classified as “on duty” and counts against the amount of time a driver is allowed to spend driving.  Very few drivers would log it this way… this waiting time disappears as if they were “off duty” having a break, or sleeping in the bunk.

The problem is that delivery/pickup appointments are unlikely to match a driver’s sleeping pattern. Most will happen during the day, quite commonly near the beginning.

The following is disturbingly common:  Driver waits 5-6 hours to have his freight loaded. Figuring that he/she has not made any money yet that day, they proceed to drive their full ten hours worth of permitted driving.
Even assuming that they do not extend that time (see below)… The driver has been up at least 6 hours by the time he leaves the pickup, and is up for at least another 11 hours (even a camel makes the occasional stop to piss… so 10 hours of driving time lasts at least 11 hours).  That’s  17+ hours of work.  Imagine getting up at 6am, how alert would you be – behind the wheel of a vehicle – by 11pm?

Six Partial Solutions

Force shippers/receivers to pay a fee to trucking companies (or customs for that matter) for the amount of time they keep trucks waiting.
Currently, there is no incentive to avoid having trucks sitting around, waiting in your yard… in fact, it suits “just in time” logistics perfectly. Trucks provide warehousing space that you would otherwise need to build.
The push which these fees would create would benefit trucking companies, yes… but the point is that they would improve safety on the roads.

Most trucks are equipped with satellite tracking. This allows drivers and dispatch to communicate (by a system not unlike email)… it also monitors where the truck is and if the truck is moving. If a record of this data were compared with log books, fraud would be obvious.

During the late afternoon, the scale/inspection stations just outside a major city could be opened to check log books. Most log books will claim that they drove 100km/hr through stop-and-go traffic. Each of these drivers is clearly lying.

Insurance companies could refuse to insure companies who will not turn over their drivers log books and the accompanying satellite records. If competition discourages this demand, it should be forced by government regulations.

Require the installation of on-board-recorders (“black boxes”). European commercial vehicles are equipped with these, turning imaginary rules into actual enforcement.

If “black boxes” are too expensive, here’s an alternative:
Require all trucks to carry a transponder (just like the ones used for a toll road). A handful of beacons could be installed on overpasses, periodically moved around. The data collected could be compared to log books.
Currently the only points a driver must worry about are fuel purchases, border crossings and transponder-controlled tolls. As long as a log book matches these few points, no one questions the rest.

Movable beacons would not allow a driver to know where (or when) their position was being recorded.

Looking the other way?

Sound pretty easy to change things?

Why isn’t anyone moving?

It’s in almost everyone’s interest to look the other way. (Except, of course, people who happen to driving on the same roads… and drivers themselves).

The government is not eager to enforce its own rules which slow the trucking industry’s productivity. If trucks don’t keep rolling, the economy suffers. From factories, mills, grocery warehouses (etc, etc) all benefit from drivers breaking the law. Deliberately, or not, they have come to depend on it.

Trucking companies profit from drivers who are willing to break the law. These drivers are obviously more productive… (a) parked trucks is expensive. Profit is made by having it move down the road. (b) dishonest drivers get loads to their destinations quicker. (c) these drivers make it easier for dispatch to get trucks to customers at a requested time. They don’t want to hear: I’ll get there tomorrow when I have (driving) hours available.

Think trucking companies care about the cost of having an occasional truck destroyed in a sleepy crash?  Maybe, but I really doubt it…  Crashes are covered by insurance (some companies are even self-insured meaning that there is no deterrent of rates being raised). The real danger is getting sued. All the more reason to look the other way. (If you see a violation happening, you’re in a vulnerable spot).

One Last Flurry of Anger.

I immediately hated truck stops. They are crowded, polluted, smelly, noisy and often sleazy. My solution was the network of highway rest stops. Each has parking spots designated for trucks. It is perfectly legal to stop for the night.

In a few states, the local DOT (department of transportation) enforcement officers will occasionally take over a rest area to set up an inspection station.

One night (3am or so), a Pennsylvia officer banged loudly on the wall of my sleeper birth. He told me that I must leave the rest area.

The HOS laws not only demand that a driver only drive so many number of hours per day… it also demands that a driver stop for at least a proscribed number of hours before beginning a new day of driving. (The current law requires that drivers stop for ten hours before starting a new day). At 3am it was clearly illegal for me to drive anywhere.

Confronted with an officer who was supposed to enforcing the HOS law who insisted that I break it… I followed instructions.
I did not argue.
Arguing with any American law enforcement officer is considered to be extremely foolish.


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