Research shows the risk of crashing increases substantially if truck drivers spend more than eight hours behind the wheel. Still, a new Canadian rule governing truckers' hours of service is due in June 2000. As proposed, it would allow longer driving hours at a stretch.
Under the proposal, the previous distinction between driving and non-driving hour limits would be removed, and the overall permissible on-duty time would be reduced to 14 hours from 15 hours. However, Canadian truckers would be permitted to spend all those hours behind the wheel before taking a 10-hour break. In contrast, truckers on U.S. roads aren't allowed to drive more than 10 hours without taking an 8-hour break.
"Driving more than 8 to 10 hours has been linked to increased crash risk, even after controlling for the effects of the time of day a trucker is driving," Institute senior research analyst Elisa Braver points out. "The risk of crashing more than doubles after 9 hours behind the wheel."
The off-duty period would increase from 8 to 10 hours. Braver says this increase should be beneficial because it would allow drivers more time to sleep. However, there's no scientific evidence that more time off duty would make it safe to drive longer periods.
Braver adds that requiring longer rest periods is meaningless in the absence of a requirement for electronic onboard recorders. The current system of truckers keeping handwritten logbooks has resulted in widespread violations of driving time limits (see Status Report special issue: truck safety, Sept. 12, 1998). In contrast, onboard recorders would prevent drivers from being on the road for excessive hours by showing when trucks are being driven.
The cap on weekly driving in Canada would be 70 hours, but the clock could be restarted after a 36-hour break — what's known as a reset provision. In comparison, U.S. truckers may not drive more than 60 hours during a 7-day period or 70 hours during 8 days, depending on whether a carrier operates 6 or 7 days a week.
The 14-day cap in Canada would be 120 hours, with a 72-hour reset. Reset provisions have the effect of permitting even more driving. For example, a trucker could drive as many as 84 hours during 7 days. During a 2-week schedule, a trucker could drive 98 hours the first week and 64 more hours the second week.
Yet Braver says there's scientific evidence for cumulative fatigue, and 36 hours off may not remove all of its symptoms. Again, without onboard recorders there's no way to know if drivers actually have been relieved of driving for the 36 hours.
Carriers with fatigue management programs or exemplary safety records could qualify for even longer hours.
"No published research shows fatigue management can allow drivers to safely spend more hours on the road," Braver says. "As for good safety records, keep in mind that fatal crashes are relatively rare. A carrier without any serious crashes in the recent past could still be at high risk for one in the near future."