FMCSA considers mandating personal driver time by studying drivers' commutes

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is taking a survey of truck drivers’ commutes to and from work. (Photo/Shutterstock)

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is taking a survey of truck drivers’ commutes to and from work. (Photo/Shutterstock)

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is taking a survey of truck drivers’ commutes to and from work. For some things, like the ELD mandate, you can’t just be an ostrich and ignore it – the world is changing. It’s the unstoppable march of technology, you might say. For a long time trucking has been largely insulated from it. But now it has turned very quickly.

But there does come a point when it seems like truckers bear a disproportionate degree of the blame for what ultimately comes down to performing a dangerous and thankless job under stressful circumstances. Perhaps we start considering improving our highways and other infrastructure? But that’s another topic.

While it’s true that the deadliest accidents on America’s roadways happen more often with freight than otherwise, at the same time, they are more often the error of the car driver, at rates that have varied over the past several years between 80-85%.  

No doubt, crashes are terrible for everyone involved. As former American Trucking Association (ATA) President Bill Graves has said, “Every crash, and every fatality and injury suffered on our nation’s highways is a tragedy. Preventing them from happening requires a proper understanding of the causes of these crashes. It is also tragic that carriers and drivers across this country are saddled with guilt and blame for many crashes they could do nothing to prevent.”

Does this latest study have anything to do with the high profile case of Tracy Morgan’s entourage getting rear-ended by a Walmart truck a few years ago? That truck driver was within his legal driving hours, but he had commuted nearly eight hours just to get to work. 

Around 1 a.m. on June 7, 2014, 35-year-old Kevin Roper – then halfway through the 13th hour of his 14-hour shift – slammed into Morgan’s limo from behind, killing comedian James McNair and seriously injuring Morgan and three others. Roper had been awake more than 28 hours, the National Transportation Safety Board reported.

He filed a civil suit against Wal-Mart; they reached a confidential settlement in May. The retailer, which initially faulted Morgan and his colleagues for not wearing seat belts, later “took full responsibility for the accident,” according to Morgan’s lawyer.

The FMCSA is seeking information on driver commutes, possibly for a potential rule that would require drivers to live within a prescribed distance of no more than 150 miles from their domiciled truck location. They are seeking comment until the end of the month. Of the currently 300+ comments, the vast majority are expressing extreme irritation and frustration.

A few expressed gratitude for the recognition of this issue, such as Joe Kramer who writes, “Thanks for realizing that there is a percentage of drivers that commute long distances to get to work. I know of at least three in our fleet, me being one of them, 100 miles away.”

Most, however, strongly disagree with where this seems to be headed: more regulation. “This study proposal is an example of a study searching for a problem to study,” writes William Hufham.

“I know this is a hard thing for the public and the government to swallow, but all the regulations in the world will not stop accidents or fatigue,” writes Kacey Erway.

Russell Dempsey expresses his point in no uncertain terms: “Not no, but hell no. What I do on my personal time is none of your business, just as what you do when not at work is none of anyone else's business. Leave us alone.”

Crashes are complex issues, requiring massive amounts of detailed analysis, research, and interpretation. When the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the FMCSA studied the issue, driver fatigue was listed as the twelfth of the top 12 most common causes of crashes.

For more comprehensive data on Large Truck and Bus Crashes from the FMCSA, click here.

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