A protest convoy of more than 300 trucks minus trailers rolling down Highway 99 from Yuba City to Fresno on Friday was designed to bring attention to the byzantine regulations governing some of the hardest and least appreciated workers on the planet — truckers.
The protest targeted the new federal regulations mandating Electronic Logging Devices on all trucks by December 2019. The $500 devices records a truck’s route and the time spent behind the wheel. It would replace handwritten logs.
The device is aimed at allowing monitoring of federal “hours of service” rules truckers must adhere to:
— Driving is limited to a 14-hour consecutive period even if you take time during that stretch to nap or have lunch during those 14 hours. But you may not drive more than 11 hours in that 14-hour period without having been off duty for at least 10 consecutive hours.
— A driver may drive a total of 11 hours during a 14-hour period although driving is not permitted if more than 8 hours have passed since the end of the driver’s last off-duty or sleeper-berth period of at least 30 minutes.
— If more than 8 consecutive hours have passed since the last off-duty period of at least of an hour a driver must take at least a 30-minute break that will be counted against the 14-hour window for driving.
— Drivers may not drive more than 70 hours during any 8 consecutive days.
— You cannot drive again after reaching the 8-day maximum of 70 hours unless you have 34 consecutive hours of not being behind the wheel.
The electronic devices will be used to monitor the rules and to generate driver fines that can run as high as $2,750 for each offense depending upon how many hours the driver has exceeded the hour limits.
The issue with some drivers is they may be within 10 minutes of a terminal and be forced to pullover or risk a fine based on the electronic recordings. Depending on how the hour rules are applied the truck would sit between 30 minutes to 24 hours just 10 minutes away from its destination if the driver doesn’t want to — or can’t afford to — risk a fine.
There is likely fudging on log books going on especially where a driver is minutes away from a destination. Keep in mind the trucker may be coming up short on time due to heavier than expected traffic or being stopped at an accident scene.
There is also the question of where truckers can legally park. There aren’t very many places where it is legal for them to do so. And unless they are paying for gas at a truck stop, they usually have to pay for the privilege to park.
The rules were put in place in the name of safety. In 2012 — the year that preceded the rules going into place — there were 63 fatal crashes connected with large truck accidents involving fatigue based on Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration statistics. That year all accidents involving trucks killed 3,921 people and injured 126,000.
Also in 2012 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported 33,351 people killed in all vehicle accidents and some 2.36 million injured. Of those dying in 2012 vehicle crashes, 10,322 were in instances involving alcohol impaired drivers.
The rules — and the subsequent move to electronic tracking devices — are aimed at preventing 1.7 percent of all fatalities in accidents where trucks are involved and driver fatigue was a factor.
Truckers have a thankless job. The reason they drive long hours is not because they are paid top dollar wages compared to many other professions. They need to drive 60 to 70 hours a week to make a living. And if they are an independent they need to drive to pay off the price of rigs that can run $80,000 to $150,000 apiece without a trailer.
I don’t know any truck drivers that are in a big hurry to die. But I do know a lot that need to make a living. The rules generally make sense but the question is how far will the government go in cases where a driver almost met the law but had to go 15 or 30 minutes over to get a load to a destination so he or she can essentially keep their job?
Truckers get cutoff all the time on freeways. People ignore the fact they take a bit longer to stop. And they are clueless often when it comes to the fact virtually everything they consume or own required a truck to move it.
And keep in mind the Pandora’s Box theory that bureaucrats keep proving over and over again. Once they get technology in place for safety purposes, it will be easy to expand it for other uses.
Some like to call cowboys truckers of the open highway. These days they are more like struggling calves trying to escape the lasso and subsequent tying of their extremities by federal bureaucratic steer wrestlers.
Besides, if you really wanted to stop highway carnage the obvious answer is to throw anybody who is caught drinking and driving into a prison cell and toss away the key. That way you get on track to save 10,322 lives a year instead of less than 100 from truck driver fatigue.