Every year, over 4,500 people are killed in road crashes in the USA which involve big trucks.
This is a stunningly high figure so it begs a serious question as to why there are so many deaths.
Three possibilities spring immediately to mind:
- Drowsy driving
- The speeds at which large trucks may be driven in the USA
- The rejection of tachographs (meaning that this very important safety issue was not pushed through as it needed to be).
Why raise these three topics? Because they present significant differences to the situations found in other developed nations which have significantly lower rates of truck-involved road deaths.
The Possibility of Drowsy Driving by Truck Drivers
Bearing in mind that drowsy driving does not necessarily involve someone falling asleep while driving but simply losing focus or concentration through a fatigue that the individual might not even notice, could a significant factor be the fact that truck drivers in America drive and work significantly longer hours each day/week than their colleagues in other developed countries?
That would seem to be a very strong possibility.
Maximum hours of driving, per day
- USA — 11 hours (can extend the 11-hour maximum driving limit and 14-hour driving window by up to 2 hours when adverse driving conditions are encountered);
- EU .. — ..9 hours (can be extended to 10 hours twice a week). Article 12 of the EU Drivers’ Hours Regulations permits extensions for unforeseen events such as severe weather.
Maximum hours and days of driving, per ‘week’
- USA — 60 hours over seven consecutive days, 70 hours over eight days
- EU .. — 56 hours in a week (but only 90 hours over any two, full, consecutive weeks)
Minimum continuous hours of daily rest
- USA — 10 consecutive hours off duty
- EU .. — 11 hours rest every day (can be reduced to 9 hours rest 3 times between any two weekly rest periods)
Compulsory minimum continuous rest period each ‘week’
- USA — A driver may restart a 7/8 consecutive day period after taking 34 or more consecutive hours off duty.
- EU .. — an unbroken rest period of 45 hours every week (can be reduced to 24 hours every other week)
At first sight, the following figures might look reasonable similar but what makes the biggest difference is the fact that American truckers can be obliged to drive on eight consecutive days before taking slightly more than one day off and then endlessly repeat that 9-day schedule, whereas their European counterparts can, at most, effectively drive for 11 days out of 14.
Given that the lowest/least common multiple for 9 and 14 is 126, this means that European truck drivers would drive 810 hours in a 126-day period, whereas American truckers will drive 980 hours in the same period — 21 percent more hours.
The problem is that in America the subject of drivers’ hours of service is a very contentious subject.
Truck fleet owners want every last penny of profit from the vehicles and the drivers. Drivers’ unions want the best-possible income for their members, and if that necessitates long hours of driving then…? Politicians want the most effective freight system for the country so they will prioritize between freight and people’s lives… and if they have been financed by trucking companies? Or the unions?
That leaves the FMCSA to promote safety, but if it is anything like NHTSA, the FMCSA will be under strong political pressure to put the economy first.
When the subject of drivers’ hours of service was reviewed just a few years ago, it was claimed that the best possible research had been followed in arriving at the number of hours that could be driven. Isn’t it strange that countries with much better safety achievements appear to have followed significantly different research and conclusions!
Speed Differentials and Large Trucks
Just three paragraphs ago, the various actors in the battle over drivers’ hours of service were briefly mentioned, and a similar scenario is definitely involved when it comes to the speed at which large trucks can be driven on U.S. roads and highways.
“If trucks do slower speeds, there will be more crashes because of the difference in speed between them and smaller vehicles,” is the inevitable argument. But the answer to that is: “Oh, really?”
Once again, the question has to be asked is that IF this claim about “more crashes” was true, how come all those countries with much better safety records in relation to large trucks have slower speed limits for trucks than other vehicles, AND a lower rate of crashes and casualties!
Is anyone smelling a lie in the above excuse?
Finally — for this article at least — let’s mention the fact that tachographs still have not been made mandatory in the USA.
Once again, the USA is over four decades behind other developed nations in improving traffic safety in a crucial area.
Under no circumstances should this have been an optional situation, subject to political manipulation. The fact is that the tamper-proof ‘tachograph’ system for recording driving activities is a tremendous life saver.
As long as American society allows drivers’ and truck owners’ so called “rights” not to be accurately monitored then many, many other Americans will die unnecessarily because the system is being cheated and truck drivers are driving for way more hours than the law permits. Drowsy driving and the resultant fatal crashes are inevitable while the current ‘Dark Ages’ system is allowed to persist.
Let’s close this article with exactly the same sentence we used to start it: Every year, over 4,500 people are killed in road crashes in the USA which involve big trucks.
- The Index Page for this entire ‘Bad Advice’ article;
- The NHTSA page within this article;
- The FHWA page within this article.
Important Addendum — November 2, 2020: