It’s difficult for the average driver to safely navigate congested roads, rain-slicked asphalt and those curvy stretches of highway that seem to materialize out of nowhere. Imagine doing it in a huge tractor-trailer carrying a heavy or dangerous load. It’s hazardous work, and truckers have to be alert to do it safely.
That’s why the nation must press ahead with a federal law requiring that electronic logging devices be used by semi drivers and certain other commercial operators to make sure they get off the road at regular periods to sleep. The measure, signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2012, is scheduled to take effect in December. However, critics continue to fight the requirement, and unfortunately, they have at least a modicum of support in Congress.
The bill is unpopular among some quarters of the trucking industry for reasons that aren’t difficult to fathom. Time is money, and some bleary-eyed drivers undoubtedly feel pressure to skirt laws on rest periods. They may be able to fudge their schedules on the traditional hand-kept logs, but that won’t be possible — theoretically, at least — with the electronic versions.
There also is concern about the cost of buying and installing the ELDs, as they’re called, and training drivers to use them. Small companies, in particular, may be hard-pressed to meet the expense. Another complaint is the scarcity of safe places nationwide for truckers to pull over for their required rest periods. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association says there are lingering questions about technical requirements, enforcement, whether the ELDs really would help to improve safety and whether use of the devices represents warrantless surveillance of drivers.
Transportation officials in the federal government and the states should provide as much assistance as possible, and identifying locations along interstates and other major roads where truckers might take their naps would be one way to help. But the requirements have been a long time coming. Highway safety should be the overriding concern, and that means implementing the law with all due speed to make sure drivers are rested and alert enough to share the highways with the rest of us.
In December, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety released a report showing that driving sleep-deprived is as dangerous as driving under the influence. The study didn’t look at truckers specifically, but the findings are telling nonetheless. According to the foundation, those who slept for fewer than four hours in a 24-hour period had an 11.5 percent elevated risk of getting into a crash.
“The estimated crash risk associated with driving after only four-five hours of sleep compared with seven hours or more is similar to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s estimates of the crash risk associated with driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) equal to or slightly over the legal limit in the U.S. (0.08), and the crash risk associated with having slept less than four hours is comparable to the crash risk associated with a BAC of roughly 0.12-0.15,” it said.
Regulators already have said they plan to phase in the ELD law through April, but U.S. Rep. Brian Babin, R-Texas, has introduced a bill to push back the mandate for another two years. The trucking industry already got one break this year when the federal government shelved a plan to test truckers and train drivers for obstructive sleep apnea. It doesn’t need another.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE