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Hell on Wheels
June 16, 2014 4:05 PM   Subscribe

Hell on Wheels: Are bad trucking laws partially to blame for Tracy Morgan's accident?
Two days before Kevin Roper crashed his Walmart big rig into Tracy Morgan’s limousine, critically injuring the comedian and killing his colleague James McNair, the Senate Appropriations Committee quietly loosened the laws governing truckers’ hours on the road. Senator Susan Collins slipped an amendment into an appropriations bill suspending for one year a rule limiting truckers to 70-hour work weeks, with a mandatory 34-hour “re-start” once they hit that threshold. Under the amendment, the law would revert to an 82-hour workweek. The Truck Safety Coalition denounced the measure: “What is being portrayed as a small change to the rest period actually has a large impact on crash risk and will set back safety for everyone sharing the roads with large 80,000-pound trucks.”
posted by tonycpsu (80 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
There is no excuse for allowing anyone to work more than 10 hours a day continuously, or even a 14-hour-5-day workweek. None.
posted by Etrigan at 4:13 PM on June 16 [62 favorites]


I think they call the excuse "Capitalism".
posted by billiebee at 4:14 PM on June 16 [29 favorites]


82-hour work-week? Wat?

I mean, I'm a workaholic and all - and I often jokingly say that being in IT, it's not like heavy labour or operating dangerous machinery - but the best I ever did was 47 hours straight. By that stage, I was seeing "shadow people" out of the corners of my eyes and completely burned out for 3-days after. (And not completely recovered for another week)

How is this safe?
posted by jkaczor at 4:15 PM on June 16 [15 favorites]


Despite the fact that they have little else in common, why do we let doctors and truck drivers, two professions that literally take other people's lives in their hands, work so long without sleep?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:15 PM on June 16 [135 favorites]


82-hour work-week? Wat?

Holy crap, no kidding. That's ridiculously unsafe.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:18 PM on June 16 [4 favorites]


... can't outsource 'em, can't easily replace them with non-licensed workers, "I know!", let's work 'em to death, and blame them when bad things happen... Make them "independent agents", make them responsible for their own insurance, and then... make it impossible for them to meet the schedules, without overwork...

Pleas remind me, why are all forms of unions bad again?
posted by jkaczor at 4:20 PM on June 16 [95 favorites]


I can't be glad enough that Walmart is taking some heat for this. My father is a retired trucker who used to drive for Schneider, and he told me whenever a Schneider's driver was assigned a run to Walmart, they'd immediately start cursing, because they knew what they were in for. Truckers aren't paid by the hour, but by the kilometre/mile, and if they have to spend hours hanging around at a warehouse waiting for their trucks to be loaded and/or unloaded that's unpaid time. Warehouse managers know this and usually make an honest effort to turn those trucks around get them on their way as soon as possible. Walmart does not. They load and unload at their own convenience and routinely keep drivers waiting for an entire day. Not only is this unpaid time, but it is also time subtracted from the time that the driver will have at home that weekend, because his company will expect him to do his next run at the usual time. Sometimes truckers only have 24 hours at home on a weekend, so this lost day may mean he doesn't get home at all that weekend.

There's just no end to how shitty a company Walmart is.
posted by orange swan at 4:21 PM on June 16 [155 favorites]


And further, my impression from speaking to those in the industry is that the rules on work limits, such as they are, tend to be treated a lot like speed limits, in that exceeding them is considered "normal" and it's only when you get really egregious violations that anyone even bats an eye. The only time truckers even bother to file complaints about their bosses breaking the law is when they're fired or they quit and are feeling a little aggrieved.
posted by Scattercat at 4:22 PM on June 16


I don't see a problem with sleep-deprived truckers. Doctors work 80+ hour weeks all the time and that never killed everybody.
posted by The White Hat at 4:24 PM on June 16 [12 favorites]


Having done a large amount of often late-late-night interstate driving, I am scared to fucking death of truckers. I watch over and over while they obviously drift off into micro-sleep until they hit the rumble strip and then swerve around the road like a drunken slinky. I can feel some adrenaline dumping into my system just thinking about it. Fuck you Susan Collins.
posted by crayz at 4:32 PM on June 16 [18 favorites]


... can't outsource 'em

Give it five years
posted by BWA at 4:48 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


And Sen. Collins is one of those so-called "moderates" Democrats are supposed to reach across the aisle to work with. How do you talk labor protections with someone who thinks 70 hour weeks aren't long enough?
posted by tonycpsu at 4:48 PM on June 16 [42 favorites]


Don't forget that we're supposed to be getting tough on drugs right now. I don't know how it is that people think that anybody can routinely be working hours like that without heavy-duty chemicals coming into the equation. It's like with the medical residencies, I wonder if any of the people making the regulations have ever, after late adolescence, done anything for 30 hours straight, that this was the reasonable limit they thought of. You might as well just put a welcome mat out for the meth dealers, with this sort of thing.

The ACGME limit for medical residents is 80 hours a week--averaged over four weeks, last I heard. So, you know, those residents are totally allowed to pull four of those 24+-hour shifts in a week so long as they get more time off next week to compensate. And OSHA specifically said they would defer to those rules. I don't think the regulators--or legislators--should be allowed to permit any limits that they can't personally work themselves without pharmacological assistance.
posted by Sequence at 4:55 PM on June 16 [17 favorites]


Remember when expanding rail capacity was briefly contemplated as something that could be done about both the recession and climate change? What happened to that?

Trucks are for local deliveries. Long haul? That's a job for trains.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 5:00 PM on June 16 [30 favorites]


[expletive deleted], this country's rail infrastructure would not last a week if they were all of the sudden shipping these truck deliveries.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:02 PM on June 16 [5 favorites]


Self-driving trucks. That's what Google should be working on.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:05 PM on June 16 [4 favorites]


Some years ago, on the Massachusetts turnpike, I was nearly sideswiped by a Walmart tractor-trailer returning to the right-hand lane after passing me (at night, in the rain). I averted a crash by swerving into the breakdown lane. Then, I risked life and limb by writing down the truck's number while following closely, and the next day, called Bentonville and tracked down the dispatcher to report this to. "That guy won't be driving for us again," I was told. But I wonder.
posted by beagle at 5:10 PM on June 16


How about setting the maximum workweek for truck drivers to 41 hours, doubling their hourly pay, and hiring twice as many drivers? Or is the problem that everyone in the United States is already gainfully employed?
posted by 256 at 5:13 PM on June 16 [55 favorites]


How about setting the maximum workweek for truck drivers to 41 hours, doubling the minimum hourly pay, and hiring twice as many drivers? Or is the problem that everyone in the United States is already gainfully employed?

That would cost money.
posted by T.D. Strange at 5:16 PM on June 16 [6 favorites]


Be gentle. Crushing souls is the only joy some management get.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:17 PM on June 16 [8 favorites]


twoleftfeet: "Self-driving trucks. That's what Google should be working on."

While this would solve some of the problem it would cost a lot more money because you need someone in the truck to perform maintenance and inspections.
posted by Mitheral at 5:17 PM on June 16


I had to google it briefly, and of course Susan Collins is a republican. I know, republican, democrat, same difference. But all the same, fuck the republicans first. We've got far too many miles of highway for us to add to their dangers by changing this rule. Lives are more important than profit.
posted by Catblack at 5:17 PM on June 16 [3 favorites]


I love driving semis. Of course, I've never had to do it for more than a month at a time, and always with one of my friends as a co-driver. Great way to see the nation. But more than that, with the building sleep debt this new law enables? Fuck that noise.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 5:18 PM on June 16


I know, republican, democrat, same difference.

I don't say that, and I don't believe that.
posted by goethean at 5:19 PM on June 16 [11 favorites]


Or is the problem that everyone in the United States is already gainfully employed?

The problem is we don't like paying "more" for clothes or food than we "need" to. Wal-Mart has built its business on margins, including the cost of shipping. More people feel they "need" $5 t-shirts than "need" safe roads and decent working conditions for truckers.
posted by rtha at 5:19 PM on June 16 [25 favorites]


Lives are more important than profit.

In America?
posted by T.D. Strange at 5:20 PM on June 16 [13 favorites]


"That guy won't be driving for us again," I was told. But I wonder.

The father of a friend of mine was trying to transition from his old career into being a driver for Walmart. I don't remember the exact details, but he was told "leave the truck there and take a Greyhound back to Arkansas" after committing one minor violation (like barely backing into a pole) too many. I seem to remember that "too many" was like 3.

So, if they fired a guy mid-route for a relatively non-dangerous event, I'd think they wouldn't take all that stuff seriously.
posted by sideshow at 5:20 PM on June 16


It's deeper than that. Walmart and the like are playing long ball; impoverishment creates more customers for them. It's a snake eating it's own tail.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:22 PM on June 16 [10 favorites]


twoleftfeet: "Self-driving trucks. That's what Google should be working on."

That's a great idea! I know I can't think of any well-known cinematic counterexample of why it wouldn't be.
posted by Strange Interlude at 5:25 PM on June 16 [4 favorites]


So just as by way of comparison, in the UK HGV drivers can't do more than 56hrs per week, and no more than 90hrs in a fortnight. So half what drivers do in the US.

There's a hideously complicated leaflet here but the gist is a 45min break every 4.5 hrs and extremely inflexible limits on hours which are enforced with Tachographs which do get inspected by the police at random intervals, and the book thrown at you if you're over.

HGV drivers don't like it because it's very rigorously enforced, but at least they shouldn't be falling asleep at the wheel.
posted by tinkletown at 5:34 PM on June 16 [10 favorites]


I drove from Minneapolis to Lincoln NE round trip last weekend, there on Friday and back on Sunday. That's about 900 miles, or 15 hours with stops. I was absolutely wiped out after getting home, and had a day of rest in between.

These guys are on the road for 15 hours a day for days straight? Jesus.

It's a tribute to coffee, No-Doz, and Ritalin that there aren't dozens of fatal truck crashes a month.
posted by Ickster at 5:49 PM on June 16


I read a forum where the site manager has a husband who's a trucker. She's always saying how any new rule meant to help truckers somehow makes the problems even worse--like the one where they have to take rest periods means that there are very, very few places where a truck can even FIT for a rest period. Also, if you screw up once, even minorly, you are out of that job for life. She is basically all "avoid all trucks on the road!!!" and uh, you can't.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:56 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


The father of a friend of mine was trying to transition from his old career into being a driver for Walmart. I don't remember the exact details, but he was told "leave the truck there and take a Greyhound back to Arkansas" after committing one minor violation (like barely backing into a pole) too many. I seem to remember that "too many" was like 3.

So, if they fired a guy mid-route for a relatively non-dangerous event, I'd think they wouldn't take all that stuff seriously.


See the dumb thing about this, is that i'm assuming they only did this because that was the point at which his insurance(that presumably they were paying for) would go up.

Gonzo lane drifting guy who caused someone to drive off the road probably hadn't had any actual reported damage or insurance requiring stuff, so they're a "safer driver". Especially if they popped a couple more adderalls before pulling in to the lot at the warehouse.


I recently had to pick up my partner and her family at the airport at about 2am. I'm a night owl, and that time of day is like my zone. I'm never remotely tired except on rare occasions, and i'm ready to play videogames/make music/drive long distances/party/whatever for several more hours.

The road was nearly clear, i had an awesome mix tape cranked up on the stereo. Watching the lane markers go by was like being in the death star trench run. I was wired in.

The drive from downtown seattle to seatac is short. maybe 20 minutes. I almost got run off the road THREE TIMES by truckers drifting halfway in to other lanes. Because i mean, what normal human is totally awake and ready to drive a gigantic truck at 2am? There's obviously some of us out there, but it's not everyone, and it's not a totally reasonable thing to expect especially if they've been driving since like... 10am. I've seen some sketchy truck drivers during the day, but there seems to be very few at that hour who aren't just nodding off.

I'm rarely driving on the highway late at night like that, so it was pretty eye opening.
posted by emptythought at 6:10 PM on June 16


So do the hauliers get prosecuted as well in the US, or just the truckers?
posted by tinkletown at 6:14 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


The problem is that we have an interstate highway system and artificially low gas prices. So alternatives such as trains and ships can't compete. And we have an assumption that driving an 18-wheeler is the same as driving a Toyota, just scaled up a bit. So rules about driving trucks should be the same as rules about driving cars.

Dirigibles. That's the answer. Huge lighter-than-air blimps that coast prevailing winds to gently deliver containers across the nation.

People react to all sorts of calamities very strongly. Here, it's the injury of a comedian, and it may take days to get over it. The Hindenburg? That's still ruining the idea of dirigibles.

We have to get over it. During the heyday of dirigibles, do you know how many were involved in collisions with other blimps?

˙ʎuɐɯ ʇou s,ʇɐɥʇ ʇnq ˙ᄅ-˥ ʇᴉɥ Ɩ-פ uǝɥM ˙ǝuo ʎlɔɐxƎ
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:19 PM on June 16


˙ʎuɐɯ ʇou s,ʇɐɥʇ ʇnq ˙ᄅ-˥ ʇᴉɥ Ɩ-פ uǝɥM ˙ǝuo ʎlɔɐxƎ

Not sure what this is, but I don't think I'm a fan.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:20 PM on June 16 [30 favorites]


She's always saying how any new rule meant to help truckers somehow makes the problems even worse

This is true in a lot of labor situations.

Step 1. New law is passed outlawing current practice X that makes like shitty for workers.
Step 2. Management has choice to either A.) make a few cents less in profit or B.) implement practice Y that will make life even shittier for workers than practice X did

Someone with a conscience who cares about the big picture, the economy, and long-term gains will make choice A. Someone who cares about making all the short-term profit he can now at the cost of literally everything else will make choice B. So naturally, WalMart and the overwhelming majority of American businesses make choice B.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:22 PM on June 16


tinkletown: "So do the hauliers get prosecuted as well in the US, or just the truckers?"

Most truckers are "owner operators", so they *are* the hauliers. Except they're not.
posted by notsnot at 6:23 PM on June 16


Not sure what this is, but I don't think I'm a fan.

It's upside down.

If you're not a fan of upside down, I respect that. But you can't deny that blimps are a great idea.

Kind of a "downside up".
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:45 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


The problem is that we have an interstate highway system and artificially low gas prices. So alternatives such as trains and ships can't compete

You'd think so, but actually we move an enormous amount by rail in the US. From the infallible Wikipedia:

In the 1950s, the U.S. and Europe moved roughly the same percentage of freight by rail; by 2000, the share of U.S. rail freight was 38% while in Europe only 8% of freight traveled by rail.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:52 PM on June 16


I'm sure it might be actually something I could be arsed to read if I cares about font tricks, 2lf, but I still want to punch the cerebrospinal fluid of the person who came up with Zalgo.
posted by mephron at 6:52 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


It does no good to mandate sleep hours for truckers, and then not provide anywhere for them to sleep. There are very few places on the East Coast that a trucker can pull over to sleep. Even fewer if other drivers are pulled over for inclement weather.

Mandated rest times mean often fruitless searches for a legal place to park, so that you don't get caught driving during them. Usually truckers park semi-legally and then hope that cops won't be total dicks when they get kick the truckers out of wherever they are. Mostly the cops are ok; sometimes they aren't.

These 36-resets or however long they are mean that a trucker can get stranded four hours from home and have to stay wherever that is for a day and a half without going home that weekend. Not very restful to be stuck rather than in your own bed at home. And it's not like truckers typically have any control over their schedules. As others have stated, loading docks and the trucking companies rule the schedules....

I'm not sure how we can mandate safe drivers and I definitely see a need for safe workplace laws, but as the wife of a former trucker, I do know that every change to DOT regulations meant a new set of headaches for my husband and no change ever improved his level of restedness. Now that he is completely out of that, we greet every news of changes with a little pity for all the drivers still out there.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 6:58 PM on June 16 [6 favorites]


I still think it's pretty fucked up that truckers can't ride with their dogs. I know that's not the debate here, but man, management hates their workers in this industry.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:00 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


There's a reason that they call them "rolling sweat shops".
posted by double block and bleed at 7:03 PM on June 16


Most truckers are "owner operators", so they *are* the hauliers. Except they're not.

Cite? i thought this mostly wasn't true anymore, and that the majority were employees of large shipping companies. Barring like, port truckers driving containers around and stuff.
posted by emptythought at 7:03 PM on June 16


There is no excuse for allowing anyone to work more than 10 hours a day continuously, or even a 14-hour-5-day workweek. None.

What if they are Corporations, because they are people my friend!

What if they are Google's robo-drivers? Will robots need a union?
posted by rough ashlar at 7:12 PM on June 16


When I used to drive from Albany to Montreal, any rest area I ever stopped in (to nap) was always full up with trucks. It always was nice and comforting to not be in an empty parking lot in the middle of nowhere. I never drove in the middle of the night (the one time I started a 5 hour drive around 7 pm I got there past 3 am because I had to sleep so often), but except when the trucks would drive really slowly next to each other taking up all the lanes -- talking? never quite understood what they were doing and why -- I found truck drivers were much more predictable than anyone else.
posted by jeather at 7:17 PM on June 16


twoleftfeet: "Self-driving trucks. That's what Google should be working on."

Self driving trucks are called trains. Freight trains.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, I can't see how Google Cars are going to deal with inclement weather. Every other car slows down, and a mini snowstorm turns into Atlanta. And all it's gonna take is one person getting killed before Google Cars turns into Google Abattoir. Do No Evil, indeed.
posted by Sphinx at 7:20 PM on June 16 [3 favorites]


I can't see how Google Cars are going to deal with inclement weather.

Perhaps by not being on the road if friend computer determines things are beyond its control to operate safely?

VS humans willingness to say 'screw it' and operating anyway.
posted by rough ashlar at 7:28 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


The 82 hour work week, brought to you by the Meth lobby.
posted by doctor_negative at 7:29 PM on June 16 [14 favorites]


However this turns out, electronic log books are probably a good idea. I did a trip with a trucker buddy from Toronto to Texas and back years ago (I was just a "guest"). We made the round trip in four days, then had to sit outside the border for a day so his paper records would look right. He said everyone just drove crazy hours and then made the paperwork look right later.

Funny thing was the only time he was ever searched was when I was with him.

I still remember that trip. One of the most interesting ones of my life, even though I spent most of it in the passenger seat of a truck. Inspired me to drive across Canada a few years back. I love road trips now.
posted by peterdarbyshire at 7:45 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


We live in the NW corner of North Dakota and thus, square in the middle of the Bakken oil boom. Our small town used to see some traffic on the US Hwy that runs through town but not much. Now we get anywhere up to 15000 vehicles a day, the majority are big rigs. A decent share of those rigs are carrying Bakken oil, a highly flammable substance (the thirty oil trains that run through town every day don't make me sleep easier either). There's so many fly-by-night trucking companies around here the state has lost count. They're so hungry for drivers they'll take anyone and they're paid of course per load, not hours spent driving. So we've got inexperienced drivers, juiced on energy drinks (or meth), running extremely long shifts on country roads that have been beat to hell, and of course, we have a lethal six month winter that no one except someone born here in this part of the world knows how to drive in.

The local news doesn't even bother to report most of the accidents and fatalities any more.
posted by Ber at 7:57 PM on June 16 [6 favorites]


Tandem Affinity: "I'm not sure how we can mandate safe drivers and I definitely see a need for safe workplace laws, but as the wife of a former trucker, I do know that every change to DOT regulations meant a new set of headaches for my husband and no change ever improved his level of restedness."

Yeah. I work in the industry, and while I agree that in general truck drivers are not well-treated (and that Wal-Mart is just the worst), I can tell you that when the new hours of service regs - the ones Collins was blocking - were proposed, drivers were not generally pleased.

Also, carriers (i.e., trucking companies) are not as in love with owner-operators as you might assume. They can be a real hassle to deal with, because they can leave whenever they please. A lot of drivers like the freedom of owning their own rig.

Again, not to say all is well in transportation. But things can often look different when you are closer to an industry.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:20 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


It's a tribute to coffee, No-Doz, and Ritalin that there aren't dozens of fatal truck crashes a month.

3,608 large truck related fatalities in 2011, 300 a month. There are so many that you never even hear about them on the news unless it's a school bus full of kids or a famous comedian. Which makes it seem like there aren't really that many.
posted by T.D. Strange at 8:29 PM on June 16 [35 favorites]


For reasons that I don't totally understand, a lot of trucking companies are based in Maine. I assume it has something to do with tax or vehicle registration rules. But if you have spent any time on the East Coast, you'll notice that a ridiculously disproportionate number of trailers have Maine plates on them.

I can only assume that Collins is in their pocket. There's not a ton of industry left in Maine to be in the pockets of, so I'm not especially surprised. Still, I'm disappointed. She and Snowe (before the latter retired) are the last of the moderate, pro-choice Republicans.

As for trains, I have no doubt that the freight rail industry could expand to take a large number of trucks off the road. The problem right now is that many rail lines are basically at capacity. And unlike the Interstate highway system, which is government-owned and government-operated at taxpayer expense, the railroads are stuck owning, maintaining, and paying property taxes on all of their right-of-ways. It's amazing they can compete at all. If we wanted to have a level playing field, the railroads would probably be quite happy to start buying taxed diesel if it meant that the Department of Transportation started maintaining all the rail lines from one yard limit to the next, and exempted them from property taxes on the same.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:33 PM on June 16 [8 favorites]


I had no idea this happened but this explains why the public radio local call in show was about truck driving regulations the other day.

I wish it really was like The Simpsons and the trucks drove themselves.
posted by sio42 at 8:33 PM on June 16


I have seen weaving trucks but the worst was the one who got so close to my Civic on the highway (going slow in a construction zone, but still) that he tore the driver's side mirror right off. It was a Walmart truck. I called them, they asked where and when it happened, and they sent me a check without a question. I imagine it's a routine thing for them.
posted by emjaybee at 8:39 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


Kadin2048: "As for trains, I have no doubt that the freight rail industry could expand to take a large number of trucks off the road. The problem right now is that many rail lines are basically at capacity."

An additional problem is that the major railroads are very difficult to deal with, from the shipper's perspective. Most lanes have little to no competition, so they are free to tell you to lump it if you don't want to do things their way, at their rates. Level of service tends to be not great, too - Chicago, for example, is a notorious black hole for freight getting lost or delayed for long periods of time.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:43 PM on June 16


Oh yeah. Like hell we don't need unions in this country anymore to make things safe.

Oh Walmart, let me count the ways I hate thee...
posted by hal_c_on at 9:49 PM on June 16


I was a long distance trucker for a short period of time. That was twenty years and a lifetime ago, so my impressions are dated, but these are some of the things I remember.

It was common practice to cheat on your log book so it would appear that you hadn't driven too many hours in a row. You just made it look somewhat realistic. You needed to do this to make all your destinations on time. The logbook could be checked anytime, so you needed to have it relatively up to date. Also, some drivers kept two logbooks. The real one and the fake one to show to police and inspectors.

For an example of what my entire experience was like I'll focus on one trip I took with a driving partner. We started in Kentucky, drove to Indiana, then to Atlanta, GA., then to North Carolina, then back to Atlanta, then to Los Angeles, CA., then up into Northern California, then to Tennessee, and finally back to our original starting point. We hardly slept at all. I never let my huge insulated coffee mug be empty. Despite all the caffeine, there were times on that trip where I was a little bit delirious from the lack of sleep.

And yes, on that trip, when we were in TN, I fell asleep at the wheel in the fast lane of an interstate. I was asleep about four seconds, long enough for the truck to be partially out of the lane, towards the median. Now, if you take long distance trucking as a profession with any kind of seriousness at all you will have drilled it into your head "You can kill other people quite easily with this truck, so always pay attention and be careful." "ALWAYS PAY ATTENTION AND ALWAYS BE CAREFUL."

That was the only time I fell asleep while driving. My reaction when the sound of the truck being partially off the road woke me up... "HOLY SHIT! HOLY SHIT! HOLY SHIT! YOU COULD KILL SOMEONE! CHILDREN! FAMILIES! INNOCENT PEOPLE! STAY AWAKE! STAY AWAKE!" I looked over to my partner in the passenger seat and he was so sound asleep that if we had actually crashed I don't think it would've woken him up. I pulled the truck over to the side of the road immediately. I got out and waited, first for the adrenaline to subside, and second for my partner to wake up. He drove the rest of the way home.

OTHO, some people do crazy things while driving their cars. I mean completely irrational, stupid, and dangerous things. Anyone who has spent any length of time on the roads knows this, but spend a lot of time driving a semi long distance and you will get a much larger and clearer picture of just how freakin' insane some people are on the road. As a trucker you really have to watch the other vehicles closely. I have a list of stories about this, but this comment is long enough.

The Safety Officer at the company I drove for? About 10 years before I started working there he OD'd on amphetamines while on a long distance trip out West. He was hospitalized and his semi had to be shipped back on a train. I'm not kidding.

Please keep in mind the little bit I've shared is just my experience with one particular company. Other companies may be much better or much worse.

I left long distance trucking because I was tired of being tired. I said, "Screw this.", and went back to college.

When you are driving behind a tractor trailer, don't get too close. If you can't see the side mirrors on the cab, the driver cannot see you. Always make yourself visible to the driver.

If you are going to pass a tractor trailer, then pass the tractor trailer. Do not cruise along beside it. You don't know if the trucker is distracted, sleepy, or whatever. One small mistake on the trucker's part and it could be goodbye cruel world for you.

If you are forced to drive next to a semi because of the flow of traffic, at the first opportunity get out of that situation. Not only because of your uncertainty about the driver, but also because tractor trailers often blow their tires (especially on the trailers), and you don't want a big chunk of tread smacking your windshield or getting tangled up underneath you car.
posted by cwest at 10:50 PM on June 16 [32 favorites]


It seems strange that the rules for driving a truck should differ so greatly from those for flying an a passenger plane,* since, at least in theory, both should be designed around biological best practices.

I really wish we lived in a country that treated things like circadian rhythms and alertness as biological realities that we need to respect, and not a matter of will. Hell, even a one-hour difference in sleep schedules can wreak havoc. Hours of sleep are not a fungible good.

*It's also bizarre that the rules for passenger flights should differ from those for cargo flights. But, I digress.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 11:00 PM on June 16 [4 favorites]


3,608 large truck related fatalities in 2011, 300 a month.

Holy shit. That's ten a day, somewhere in the U.S. Far too high.
posted by zardoz at 11:23 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


Came to join in on snark on Collins's being a moderate. Left satisfied.
posted by persona au gratin at 12:22 AM on June 17


I don't get why insurance companies tolerate this. You'd think that any time a trucker caused an accident with injury and got sued, the jury would be incredibly unsympathetic to the trucking company for putting everyone in danger like this.
posted by Mitrovarr at 1:03 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]


Mitrovarr, do the math. Ten events a day * average likely payout per event, vs. 10 hours extra driving per week * total number of truckers * average profit per hour driven. The latter is going to beat the pants offf the former.
posted by effugas at 2:13 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]


I don't get why insurance companies tolerate this. You'd think that any time a trucker caused an accident with injury and got sued, the jury would be incredibly unsympathetic to the trucking company for putting everyone in danger like this.

Because it's always sold as the drivers fault, hook line and sinker. Oh look, they cheated on the logs. Oh look, they didn't sleep enough, oh look... The system is never called in to question, just the individual person. Bury them and make them look shitty enough and it's just an individual case of a fuckup, not a sign of a larger problem.

Any halfway decent attorney working for the trucking company could sell that in a second.
posted by emptythought at 2:39 AM on June 17 [7 favorites]


There is no excuse for allowing anyone to work more than 10 hours a day continuously, or even a 14-hour-5-day workweek. None.
posted by Etrigan at 7:13 PM on June 16 [46 favorites +] [!]

82-hour work-week? Wat?
Holy crap, no kidding. That's ridiculously unsafe.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:18 PM on June 16 [3 favorites +] [!]


Yet we allow this same thing every week when we allow cops to pull overtime and details. I once calculated how many hours my city's top cops worked, loosely based on the annual report...84 hours/week, 52 weeks a year! Aside from tired truckers we also don't need tired cops.
posted by Gungho at 6:52 AM on June 17 [5 favorites]


More people feel they "need" $5 t-shirts than "need" safe roads and decent working conditions for truckers.

This is an even weaker version of the argument that paying waitstaff minimum wage would hugely increase the cost of restaurant meals. How much of the $5 price of a T-shirt do you imagine goes to pay for the truck driver's wages? I'd be surprised if it was as much as a penny. I'd like to see an analysis of how much effect on consumer prices there would be from paying drivers the same wages while cutting their hours in half (effectively requiring twice as many drivers, and doubling the labor costs of trucking).
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:53 AM on June 17


It's also bizarre that the rules for passenger flights should differ from those for cargo flights. But, I digress.

I suspect the reasoning is that pilots of passenger flights may have to deal with passengers, so they need to be a little more rested.
posted by Etrigan at 6:58 AM on June 17


This is why I don't trust truckers to be exemplary mergers.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:40 AM on June 17


at least in theory, both should be designed around biological best practices.

And it's not like we haven't studied the biology of shiftwork or anything - there's an enormous scientific and military literature on this subject.
posted by sneebler at 8:06 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]


This is like pretty well all the serious problems we have in the United States today:

* the choice we get is between unreasonable and more unreasonable.
* there is agreement on the more unreasonable solution amongst both political parties.
* the most unreasonable solution is marginally more profitable for the 1%.
* as a result, "average" people are pushed more and more into intolerable conditions.
* the majority of society is reduced by this choice...
* but the 1% and their families are unaffected.

The song remains the same whether we're talking worker's rights, your right to your day in court, the militarization of the police, enforcement of securities laws, student loans, foreclosure laws - or in this case trucker road safety.

It is appalling, but you can answer so many questions generically this way. For example, why is trucking done this way but not aviation? Answer: the 1% flies a lot but doesn't take road trips.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:19 AM on June 17 [14 favorites]


Any halfway decent attorney working for the trucking company could sell that in a second.

And if the driver was technically classified as an "independent contractor" or "owner operator", the trucking company can say, "well he's not OUR driver" and get right out of the case before getting anywhere near a jury.
posted by T.D. Strange at 8:20 AM on June 17


Hey, can we get this added to the Wikipedia page for Betteridge's Law as a counter-example?
posted by wenestvedt at 8:54 AM on June 17


I'd like to see an analysis of how much effect on consumer prices there would be from paying drivers the same wages while cutting their hours in half (effectively requiring twice as many drivers, and doubling the labor costs of trucking).

Got your cite for ya. The answer is somewhere in the "not a noticeable amount" zone.
posted by emptythought at 10:45 AM on June 17


Ber, yeah, in eastern North Dakota we had the beet trucks. Sugar beets are pretty big in that area and every year around harvest time they'd hire a pile of new temporary drivers who were paid by the load. Every year, someone warned me never to drive near the sugar beet trucks because the drivers were known to be perpetually exhausted and hopped up on meth. Also because the trucks have a tendency to hiccup sugar beers and my tiny car would've choked on one of those puppies (seriously, sugar beets are ridiculously huge).

Of course, eastern North Dakota also has freight cars filled with highly flammable Bakken oil, as the recent incident in Casselton proved. It's a genuine toss-up which is worse, rail or road, and it's overly facile to reflexively pick rail as the safer option. My ideal world would require legally enforced sleep breaks and humane work schedules for anyone working in any form of transport.
posted by librarylis at 11:26 AM on June 17


There's just no end to how shitty a company Walmart is.
Walmart doesn't have the monopoly on making drivers wait to unload...when I worked in the steel industry, this was a common problem at so many destinations, from Big 3 automakers to Tier 1 suppliers, to service centers. If the place you're delivering to is union and they have prescribed workers who can operate the overhead crane/forklift/whatever, and he's/they're running behind, too bad. Truckers have to sit and wait to be unloaded. Even in non-union plants, truckers have to rely on the inner-workings of their terminus; maybe someone in Shipping/Receiving screwed up the delivery appointments, maybe too many plant employees are absent that day, maybe a crane broke down. Just sayin' that truck unloading delays are absolutely not unique to Walmart.

It does no good to mandate sleep hours for truckers, and then not provide anywhere for them to sleep.
Most of the service centers I worked for allowed drivers to park their rigs and sleep, but it was a gamble...such companies were never located in nice, leafy suburbs (because no one wants a loud, smelly factory with lots of truck traffic in their back yard), so the neighborhoods were always sketchy, especially after dark. Drivers who napped in our lot quite frequently got their chains and tarps stolen.
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:52 PM on June 17 [2 favorites]




peterdarbyshire: However this turns out, electronic log books are probably a good idea.

I recently talked to a guy in the trucking industry, and he said that electronic logs were going to be the single biggest thing to shake up the industry in the next couple of years, because it would force drivers (and their companies) to be honest.

Another interesting thing could be smarter 3rd Party Logistics, in which the middlemen who connect truckers with loads no longer have to flip through rolodexes of contacts (!!) to find some company a truck or three to deliver their load, and instead computers are used to optimize trips for truckers. Instead of driving 100 miles with an empty truck to pick up goods to deliver, a trucker could drive 5 miles to pick up a load.

While that might make it sound like increased efficiencies would put some truckers out of jobs, it would probably just start to address the loss of drivers that the industry is currently facing, and ensure the truckers are paid for more of the miles they drive. For some crazy reason, there aren't enough new people who want to drive trucks for 82 hours a week for low pay.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:45 AM on June 23


[expletive deleted]: Trucks are for local deliveries. Long haul? That's a job for trains.

I've heard that rail depots are spaced at most every 500 miles, as rail lines have figured they maximize their investments by supporting a 500 mile radius from those points.

That's 500 miles where major rail companies won't install lines or stops, and you'd have to have significant density to support a Class II or III line, which could serve those shorter distances. And new lines means new land acquisition, which is really expensive. So you're back on the roads, which get you to each and every doorstep and delivery dock, no need to (directly) pay for the infrastructure.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:54 AM on June 23


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