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Smiley frowns on hours plan

TORONTO, Ont. - One of the five members of an expert panel that studied driver fatigue for Transport Canada has come out against proposed hours of service rules because they fail to recognize that the...


PRESSING MATTERS: Bob Evans of Canadians for Responsible and Safe Highways listens to a briefing by Alison Smiley. (Photo by John G. Smith)
PRESSING MATTERS: Bob Evans of Canadians for Responsible and Safe Highways listens to a briefing by Alison Smiley. (Photo by John G. Smith)

TORONTO, Ont. – One of the five members of an expert panel that studied driver fatigue for Transport Canada has come out against proposed hours of service rules because they fail to recognize that there’s a difference between daytime and nighttime driving.

“That’s not rocket science,” Alison Smiley said during a July 13 press conference sponsored by Canadians for Responsible and Safe Highways (CRASH), a railway-sponsored lobby group. “We all know we’re sleepier at night than we are during the day … You don’t function too well in the early hours of the morning.”

Under the proposed cycle that limits truckers to 70 hours of work in seven days, drivers would be allowed to work five consecutive 14-hour shifts and then repeat the cycle after only one night off, she said, referring to the reset. “That’s inadequate … people need more than one night off to recover.”

Proposals for new rule in the U.S. are better because they guarantee two nights off – known as a mandated “weekend” – while Electronic On Board Recorders will track the hours of long-haul drivers, she says.

“If we don’t enforce the regulations, there’s just far too much pressure on the individual trucker to violate the regulations.” Traditional logbooks, she adds, are more easily “modified” by those who want to skirt the rules.

However, Smiley did admit that the Canadian proposal improves on existing rules that “aren’t based on any science whatsoever.”

Such things as the switch to cycles based on a 24-hour clock, and an end to the practice of letting truckers switch from one cycle to another are important steps, Smiley said.

And fatigue isn’t limited to truckers, she admitted, noting that her early days of fatigue research involved a fatal railway accident where the engineer had inadequate sleep. “Like truck drivers, they’re paid by the mile driven. Pilots may be allowed to fly up to 20 hours within 24, but they have more time off.”

Railway engineers are allowed to work a maximum of 18 hours in a 24-hour period.

Bob Evans, CRASH’s executive director, noted that most locomotive engineers are under collective agreements that ensure engineers average 40 hours per week, although he admits there are situations in which some work extreme hours.

Before the rules are redrawn, Smiley would like to see a study that compares the hours worked by truck drivers who are in accidents to those who are not in accidents. A similar 1987 study in the U.S. (by Jones and Stein) found that accident risks doubled among drivers who were behind the wheel for more than eight hours. Such a study could also examine the risks of driving during a time of day when humans are naturally tired.

In any case, it’s still difficult to measure fatigue, Smiley said. “We don’t have a fatigualyzer. We have a breathalyzer.”

Unless the rules offer enough rest, “it’s dangerous for (the trucker) and dangerous for those of us who drive beside him,” she says.

In the meantime, Smiley knows what she wants to do when she’s driving.

She makes a point of avoiding truck traffic in the middle of the night. n


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