Truck Drivers Oppose New Bill Requiring Electronic Or GPS Recording Of Their Hours On The Road To Prevent Fatigue
USA Today recently had an article about the debate over a bill pending in Congress that would require all commercial truckers to install onboard electronic recorders to ensure the truckers do not exceed federal law limiting their hours of service rules. Fatigue is the #1 cause of preventable commercial trucking accidents; as trucking accidents, we have long-supported these measures.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations ("FMCSR") establish very specific rules for when trucks can be operated, for how long they can be operated, and for how many hours the driver has to go off-duty so that they have an opportunity to get some rest. We do not think these rules are perfect, but they are certainly better than nothing, and right now they are the primary reason that truck drivers are not routinely driving 12 or more hours every single day, hopelessly fatigued and posing a danger to themselves and everyone around them.
But there is a big problem with their enforcement: right now, the law requires only that truck drivers keep handwritten logbooks detailing their time. As we know from our experiences, it is common for truck drivers to not even bother preparing their logbook until several days after they have completed a trip, at which point they "adjust" their numbers to make them comply with the FMCSR. The end result is that, at any given point of the day, our interstates and highways are filled with commercial truck drivers who are driving well-passed the maximum on-duty hour limits in the FMCSR, with the intent of falsifying their logbooks later.
These days, GPS and other satellite tracking systems are commonplace, so that even most new Smart Phones have GPS. Thus, the cost and difficulty of installing tracking systems - some people call these "black boxes", but within the field of trucking accidents, that's more specifically a reference to the electronic control module on the truck that records information about accidents and speed and the like - is minimal.
After years of pressure from highway safety advocates and lawyers for people injured in truck accidents, several of the larger trucking companies, like Schneider National, started requiring all of its drivers use onboard recorders. As the USA Today article recounts, Schneider National saw significant reduction in crashes, particularly crashes relating to fatigue and a lack of sleep, after it imposed the requirement. Thus, the American Trucking Association, which represents many of the large trucking companies, supports mandating the recorders for everyone, because many of its own members already have them. In contrast, the Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association, which represents truckers who own their own tractors but who are not employed by the major companies, opposes the measure.
In many ways, the debate reminds me of the debate over wearing helmets in hockey. There is no doubt that helmets protect players from a wide variety of brain injuries, but many players think helmets restrict their movement and impair their peripheral vision. Intriguingly, most hockey players say that everyone should be required to wear helmets, but also say that, if they had a choice and the other team was wearing helmets, then they wouldn't wear one! The reason for this counter-intuitive result is a matter of economics and game theory: hockey players want a competitive advantage, and so will take their own helmets off if given the choice (despite it being less safe) but won't mind if everyone is required to wear a helmet.
Much the same way, the independent truckers don't want to have the satellite tracking on them because, at the moment, trucks that don't have the automated recording systems have a small advantage over the trucks that do, because those smaller trucks have the ability to manipulate their logbooks and thus drive beyond the on-duty hours limitations imposed by the FMCSR.
Given the number tragic and preventable accidents we've seen caused by truck driver fatigue - including accidents that have killed and maimed children - we have no sympathy for the truckers who want to get a leg up on the competition by driving unsafely. The FMCSR on-duty hour limits are there for a reason, and that reason is to force exhausted drivers off the road and to prevent their employers from trying to squeeze a couple extra hours a day out of them.
I had one wrongful death case where one college student was killed and two others were seriously injured by a trucker who was doing 80 mph in a snowstorm after having driven 14 hours or more a day for a week. The company he worked for did not require onboard electronic monitoring, and so, if you looked at his logbooks, they all claimed that he had been driving within the FMCSR hours - it was only after we obtained all of his bills of lading and gas receipts that we did the math and calculated that, for his logbook to be accurate, he would have to have been traveling at an average speed of 120 mph every day for a week. Of course he wasn't doing that, his log book was falsified. The case settled for insurance policy limits.
If you or any of your loved ones ever travel on a highway or an interstate - which of course they do - call or write your representative and Senators in Congress and demand they require truckers follow the FMCSR at all times by mandating onboard recorder requirement.