Safety isn't simple

Self-appointed safety advocates like CRASH don't like the current hours-of-service (HOS) regulations because they say the rules let drivers work too many hours.

Self-appointed safety advocates like CRASH don't like the current hours-of-service (HOS) regulations because they say the rules let drivers work too many hours. Fleets and their drivers don't like HOS because they say they're too inflexible and force drivers to cheat if they're going to work and get the rest they need. While neither side may want to admit it, they're both right.

HOS rules are based on a 70-year-old concept that you can effectively address driver fatigue by simply placing a limit on the hours they drive. We've learned a great deal about fatigue in the last 70 years and all that research points to one thing — driver fatigue is a complex issue far beyond the ability of a single one-rule-fits-all solution.

For example, not all hours behind the wheel are equal when it comes to creating fatigue. And beyond that, individuals vary widely in their ability to resist fatigue or recover from it.

So if the goal is improving highway safety, how can we go on simply prescribing when drivers can drive and when they can sleep? The answer from people who've taken an honest look at the issue is that we can't. And now that opinion has been endorsed by one government.

After six years of research and pilot projects, Australia has rewritten the rules governing working hours for truck drivers in an attempt to effectively balance driver productivity and rest requirements.

It starts with a choice for fleets and their drivers. They can continue operating under current HOS rules, which are similar to ours. They can gain a bit of flexibility in work and rest periods with some basic fatigue-management training for drivers and managers. Or they can work within only a minimal framework of long-term hours restrictions if they are willing to undergo an extensive accreditation that includes detailed training for drivers, fleet personnel and even customers.

This is not a simple solution by any stretch. The training involves an in-depth understanding of what creates driver fatigue and how drivers can best manage rest and work. Logbooks are replaced by “work diaries” that keep track of all the fatigue-related variables a driver encounters. Dispatchers have to juggle all the variables that go into the fatigue equation, not just keep track of available hours.

Just as important, the new rules place responsibility for fatigue management on everyone in the supply chain. That means the shipper who keeps a tired driver waiting to be loaded faces substantial fines, as does the receiver.

At this point, you're probably saying: “Sounds great on paper, but it's too complex to be practical.”

If you want a simple solution, then stick with today's HOS rules, or rather stick with them for as long as the courts allow them to stand. But if you really want to address driver fatigue, then it's finally time to admit it's a highly complex problem and it's going to require an equally complex solution.

No matter where you come down on the question, at the very least give credit to your trucking peers Down Under for taking a bold step to keep their drivers alert and on the road.

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