Are truck drivers human beings or machines?

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Dear Editor:

It seems to me that some governmental agencies think truck drivers are machines.

Take, for instance, the Hours-of-Service topic, especially 60/7, 70/8, or 120/14 cycles.

Since all of them work on a similar basis, I will concentrate on the most popular one, 70/8. A maximum of 70 hours of work in eight consecutive days.

Some lawmakers came to the conclusion (after conducting exhaustive research, I’m sure) that after so many hours in so many days a driver will become tired, weary and dangerous to public safety.

I know that my single voice doesn’t have much power, but perhaps some people will give a brief thought to the following.

My three years of volunteer study of psychology, sociology and the influence of emotions on our behavior tells me, that the government agencies which established this law (70/8) did not take under consideration the fact that drivers are also human beings. A driver is not part of a truck.

He is not a computer or robot which you can turn off when it becomes overheated.

We as truck drivers sometimes have families, spouses, children, friends, homes, and feelings.

Now let’s assume that a poor driver is far away from home.

He is in compliance with his daily HoS but his 70 hours have run out. The law says STOP wherever you are.

On the back road, rest area or little truck stop with a convenience store as the only entertainment.

You just stop and rest one day, or maybe two days, because you are tired, exhausted, and you may be a hazard for public safety. I may be wrong, but I supposed that was the reasoning behind this law.

But wait a second – truck drivers are human.

It is a beautiful day, a man is driving towards home, happy to see his family in a day or two, and all of a sudden he gets a signal (over a satellite system, phone, or by realizing that he is about to break the law), that he must stop.

How does this driver feel in a situation like this? Like a prisoner? Like a dog in a doghouse? Powerless? All of the above? Let’s assume he obeys, drumming his fingers on a dashboard.

Slowly he becomes angry; frustrated, stressed out. He wants to go home, but the law says he is too tired. Sometimes there is no shower available and food is limited. Finally after a day or two he can start driving again. Wonderful. There is one “but.”

A person who is angry, stressed out, or even in a mild depression is a far greater danger on the road than a person who worked more than 70 hours in eight days – but who is happy that he is coming home, making money and the day is sunny (assuming that he got enough sleep).

According to some statistics only about 20 per cent of accidents involving commercial trucks are caused by truck drivers.

And I would say that the majority of these 20 per cent happened because the driver was either sleepy after driving all night, inexperienced, or for some reason emotionally unstable and in no psychological state to properly evaluate the situation on the road. An angry or furious driver may drive fast and aggressively, when depressed and upset a driver may drive with the attitude of “I don’t care much about anything, nothing is important.”

The problem is that authorities like the police, MTO and DOT don’t have special instruments to measure levels of emotional turbulence in drivers’ minds, nor do they care to ask.

Authorities just check papers and if something doesn’t look right or is missing, they punish the driver severely along with the company he is working for, adding even more emotional upheaval. Does it sound logical?

We all are emotional creatures, and when emotion clashes with logic, emotion always wins.

And when the emotion is negative and intensive, it will create a potential problem.

In our case possible accidents, or at least dangerous situations.

But our law says after 70 hours of work in eight days a truck driver must stop and can’t go anywhere until the LAW tells him that he can drive again. Logical but not practical. My suggestion would be: let the man come home, and then put him off-duty for a couple of days so he can rest at home with family or friends, go fishing or whatever. Then he will return back to work refreshed, happy and with a positive attitude which on the road are equal to focus, calmness and right judgment.

Witold Drozd

Via e-mail

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