An Update on Virginia Rest Stops
Shortly before taking office, Governor Bob McDonnell announced he will reopen the interstate highway rest stops closed last summer because of Virginia’s budget shortfall. 1 As of April 15, 2010, all 19 have now been re-opened. 2 Although all tired motor vehicle drivers will benefit from this development, long distance tractor trailer operators should benefit the most.
At The Allen Law Firm, our tractor trailer accident attorneys often see the terrible injuries and ruined lives caused by crashes involving truck driver fatigue. Every year, 5,000 people or more are killed in truck crashes. If the new governor’s decision ultimately prevents even a few truck accidents and saves even one life, the expense of reopening the rest areas will be worth it.
Truck driver fatigue is a longstanding problem caused primarily by the tremendous pressure trucking companies place on their drivers to deliver freight within tight time schedules. This situation has worsened since 2003 when a new Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration “hours of service” (HOS) rule went into effect. The rule allows truckers to be behind the wheel up to 11 hours, one hour more than they were allowed before 2003. It further permits them to drive as many as 77 hours in seven days or 88 hours in eight days.
Think about what that means. At work, if you are sitting at a desk typing or preparing a report, you can daydream for a minute or even doze off for a few minutes without harming someone else. You’re also likely to work only 40 hours in seven days.
Can you imagine what it would be like to work 77 hours in seven days without looking away from your computer or just leaning back and closing your eyes for a few minutes? Well, a truck driver can’t take his eyes off the road for more than a second or two without risking a collision. No wonder truck driver exhaustion causes accidents.
It’s more than just driving that wears a trucker out. Not only must a driver be behind the wheel for long hours, the driver may also be responsible for loading and unloading the truck at the beginning of a trip or at its destination (or both!). These extra hours may not count in a trucker’s hours of service, but they certainly add to the fatigue level.
Studies have shown that a truck driver’s alertness and performance begin to deteriorate substantially after eight hours of driving. 3 That’s when a driver really needs to take a break. Other studies have shown that a truck driver needs to be off duty for at least 16 hours in order to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep 4; that’s impossible if a truck driver is working 11 hours out of a 24 hours day. So let’s welcome back the reopened interstate rest areas. Most have special parking sections designed for big trucks, and you can already see them being used again. We at Allen and Allen hope tired truck drivers will use them to take a nap and rest up before they continue on their journeys. We’ve seen the terrible consequences when they don’t.
1 – See http://www.bobmcdonnell.com/index.php/press_releases/details/mcdonnell_keep_rest_stops_open/.
3 – See “Underestimating the societal costs of impaired alertness: safety, health and productivity risks”, Sleep Medicine, Volume 6, Issue null, Pages S21-S25, M. Rosekind.
4 – “In quick changeovers with 8 hours off between shifts, Totterdell (1990) found that workers only acquired 5.14 hours sleep. Kurumatani (1994) found a correlation (r=.95) between the hours between shift and sleep duration. They concluded that at least 16 hours off duty time were needed between shifts to ensure 7-8 hour sleep, a conclusion reiterated in a recent review (Kecklund & Akerstedt, 1995).” From “An Overview of the Scientific Literature Concerning Fatigue, Sleep, and the Circadian Cycle”, Prepared for the Office of the Chief Scientific and Technical Advisor for Human Factors, Federal Aviation Administration, By Battelle Memorial Institute, JIL Information Systems, January 1998, at http://cf.alpa.org/internet/projects/ftdt/backgr/batelle.htm.