The U.N. suspends Syrian peace talks until late this month. The U.S. plans to quadruple military spending in Europe as a signal to Russia. And American officials express concern about ISIS in Libya. A panel of journalists joins guest host Tom Gjelten for analysis of the week's top international news stories.
- Bill Graves president and CEO, American Trucking Associations; former governor of Kansas.
- David Dinges professor, scientist and sleep expert at the University of Pennsylvania medical school.
- Jeff Burns national transportation counsel for Parents Against Tired Truckers.
- Joan Lowy transportation reporter, Associated Press.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Nearly 4,000 people are killed annually in accidents involving large trucks. Highway safety groups and unions have fought with trucking industry for years over driving rules for truckers. Congress is considering easing hard-won rules enacted last year that give truck drivers more time off to rest. Driver fatigue is believed to be a factor in about 20 percent of crashes, including the one that killed one person and injured comedian Tracy Morgan last weekend.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio to talk about fatigue and highway safety: Bill Graves of the American Trucking Associations, and Joan Lowy of the Associated Press. Joining us from KCUR in Kansas City, Jeff Burns of Parents Against Tired Truckers. I know you'll want to join the conversation. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us Facebook or send us a tweet. Thank you all for being with us.
MS. JOAN LOWYGood to see you, Diane.
GOV. BILL GRAVESYeah, good to be with you.
MR. JEFF BURNSThank you for having me.
REHMGlad to have you all here. Joan Lowy, I'll start with you. Give us a sense of these rules that currently govern how many hours truck drivers can drive and what's being proposed.
LOWYWell, the trucking industry and safety advocates and labor unions, on the other hand, have been battling back and forth about trucker hours for more than -- or it seems like two decades at least. And so there have been many incarnations of regulations, many trips to federal court. Last summer, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration put in place some regulations that said, OK, drivers used to be able to take as few as 34 hours off at the end of their work week before they started a new work week.
REHMAnd what were the hours of the work week?
LOWYIt gets complicated, but it depends if you work -- you could work 60 hours if you worked for one kind of trucking company, given their schedules, and you could work as many as 70 hours in a week if you worked for a different kind of company. And the -- but this -- there was a 34-hour turnaround period previously in the rules that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration put into effect, effectively said you could still take those 34-hour turnaround periods, but at least that -- there had to be at least two nights, two 1:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. periods, when -- in that 34 hours so that people got rest when they most need it.
LOWYAnd then the way the rule was written, you probably couldn't take those two 34-hour turnaround periods, you know, in a row. There would have to be a longer weekend in between before you go on to another week where you could take that.
REHMAll right. So, Gov. Bill Graves, as former governor of Kansas, the changes now being sought by the Congress and, indeed, a provision added to the spending bill last week by Sen. Susan Collins of Maine would roll back these regulations that are currently in place. Tell me why the American Truckers Association feels that the hours that were put into place last July don't work.
GRAVESWell, let me, if you don't mind, for the clarity of the listeners…
GRAVESWe support the 34-hour restart. The argument that's taking place is over whether or not the requirement that you spend two consecutive 1:00 to 5:00 a.m. periods resting contributes to safety. That's what this whole argument is about, is whether or not -- we want to rest 34 hours. We like the restart as it was in effect last July, still required you to take 34 hours. It just didn't have that additional prescriptive 1:00 to 5:00, two consecutive nights.
GRAVESThere's a variety of problems that we have with that proposal. Number one, we're not convinced the agency did a very good job of researching and coming up with the data to support the efficacy of that to begin with. And, in fact, as you probably know, as part of the Congressional effort in the last week or two, the agency offered up that they'd be willing to do a more robust study in an effort to justify why that is a valid operational proposal.
GRAVESNumber two, under questioning, when asked if they had taken into consideration what's the impact of pushing a lot of commercial vehicle traffic back out onto the nation's highways right after 5:00 a.m. on any given morning of the week, the agency admitted that they had not considered that factor. And we believe that's something that's pretty darned important given the amount of traffic in this country, the amount of school busses, people commuting to work, whatever.
GRAVESWe think that's an important element to consider. And it was not. The third thing is we've heard from a number of trucking companies. We've also heard from the shipping community that it is having a significant impact on their ability to -- for truck drivers to continue to run loads they'd like to run and earn a living.
GRAVESAnd we've had comments in actual demonstrated financial harm from shipping community who doesn't have the capacity available to them to move product that they need moved. So, for a variety of reasons, we asked the Congress to simply stay the provisions of the 1:00 to 5:00 requirement until the study can be done and we have greater evidence to support it.
REHMBill Graves, he's president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations. That has an "S" on the end of it. He's former governor of Kansas. And Joan Lowy, she's transportation reporter for The Associated Press. Jeff Burns, turning to you, of the National Transportation Council for Parents Against Tired Truckers, talk about why you are opposed to easing these so-called hours of service rules.
BURNSWell, I think we need to put the rule in context. Prior to the regs that came out in 2004, there was no 34-hour restart. The limits on driving hours was 70 hours in eight days, which we think is plenty. I mean, how many workers out there work 70 hours in eight days? And truck drivers are not protected by the Fair Labor Standards Act, so they don't get overtime pay. So truck drivers are already overdriven. Essentially, in 1938, when the Fair Labor Standards Act was put into effect to get rid of sweatshops in our countries, they left the sweatshops on wheels.
BURNSAnd so we have drivers that are required to drive 70 hours in eight days. And with the 34 -- the 34-hour restart was part of the alteration of regs in 2004. So this is not something that's been part of the industry for a long time. And, in fact, when it was first advocated by the industry, the argument that we heard was, well, we don't want to have our -- if a driver drives over the road and he's out there and he runs out of hours in five or five and a half days, he has to sit somewhere out in Utah for three days before he can pick up any new hours under the weekly 70-hour rule.
BURNSAnd wouldn't it be better if we could let him rest for 34 hours and get back on the road? There was never, at that time, an indication that an industry would build around a normal requirement, that they would build a delivery system that is built on requiring drivers to drive more than 70 hours in eight days. As that rule took effect, there were multiple lawsuits, as your guest indicated.
BURNSAnd that rule was unanimously overturned by the U.S. District Court -- U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit twice. They found that the 34-hour restart was exacerbating driver fatigue. And they kicked it out twice. The third time it came back, rather than requiring a court rule on it, the parties to the lawsuit agreed that the FMCSA would issue a new rule. And that's the rule that we're talking about today.
BURNSSo there was not a -- there was never a rule that was unchallenged to allow the 34-hour restart. And what the FMCSA found was it was becoming the norm for drivers to use this, where it was not -- it was -- that was never intended. And they found that without two evenings of allowing a driver to have restorative sleep, that it was -- that the studies that they performed, they found that it exacerbated driver fatigue. And there is…
REHMSo -- all right.
REHMFrom your perspective, Jeff Burns, do you believe that overturning the rule now in place would put both truck drivers and other drivers on the road at risk because of drowsy driving?
BURNSAbsolutely. This -- what you need to understand is this rule -- the only purpose of this rule is to allow drivers to drive more hours and rest less.
REHMAll right. Jeff Burns is of National Transportation Council for Parents Against Tired Truckers. Joan Lowy is transportation reporter for the Associated Press. Bill Graves, former governor of Kansas, now president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations. Short break here. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back here in the studio as we talk about rules affecting how long truckers may drive and be on the road behind the wheel transporting goods that you and I certainly need. Bill Graves is former governor of Kansas. He's president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations. Joan Lowy is transportation reporter for The Associated Press. Joining us from KCUR in Kansas City, Jeff Burns. He's with Parents Against Tired Truckers. He is their national transportation counsel.
REHMGov. Graves, yesterday former Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the House lost his bid in a primary election for re-election. He lost out to a Tea Party candidate. Do you believe that if Tea Party Republicans win more elections across the country that we're likely to see a diminishing of regulations generally?
GRAVESOh, I don't think that I do, Diane. You know, we're having this conversation about the nuances with something that's the restart rule, but, I mean, our industry, we're currently in favor of the rule-making on electronic logging. We're in favor of the rule-making on speed governors on trucks. We've supported the EPA's first round of rule-makings on emissions and fuel efficiency.
GRAVESI mean, the business community, I don't think you can generally say is anti-regulation. The business community is opposed to regulations that they just don't feel are based on sound science and research and have unintended consequences. So I think the outcome of last night doesn't bode well for probably moderate or mainstream Republicans. But I also don't think, based on my sense of this country, that it's -- last night was probably a bad development for Democrats.
REHMAll right. Let's move on. Is there consensus, from your perspective, Gov. Graves, that fatigue does post a risk to safety on the highways?
GRAVESWell, it -- yes, it certainly does, Diane. The question becomes, to what extent? And without taking too much of your time, you know, you opened the show with a comment about the 4,000 fatalities. That's an accurate number in the context that there were 34,000 fatalities elsewhere in totality on the nation's highways in 2012. So this is a subset of 34,000, and it's 4,000...
GRAVESIt's a big subset.
GRAVESBut there's also data that shows that 70 percent of those fatalities were caused by someone other than the commercial vehicle driver. So it's not 4,000 fatalities caused by commercial people...
BURNSDiane, this is Jeff Burns. I just have to point out the absurdity of that study. That study was done by Dan Blower. I know Dan Blower. And if you talk to Dan Blower about that study, what he looked at was one-truck one-car crashes and didn't look at any others, and looked at fatal crashes involving one car and one truck. And when you limit it that way, you take out a whole bunch of crashes that are most likely to be caused by the commercial motor vehicle truck.
REHMAll right. Now, Jeff, what percentage of the accidents that are caused by drowsy drivers are within that trucking industry?
BURNSDiane, it's hard to get a statistic because there is no test after a crash for driver fatigue. But -- and so if a crash happens and the car driver is killed and the truck driver survives, he's got a lot of adrenaline pumping. When the police get there, he may not be quite as tired as he was. And there's nobody to tell the story of the passenger car driver.
REHMOK. Joan Lowy, it's my understanding that the accident involving the actor that killed one other person, there was a truck driver who had not had sleep for 24 hours.
LOWYWell, we know that according to the information filed by prosecutors that he hadn't -- it's alleged that he had not slept in more than 24 hours. We don't know the basis of that allegation yet. But I can tell you that NTSB, the National Transportation Safety Board, has covered accident after accident in which fatigue was a factor. When you say, what caused the accident, well, maybe the cause was that the driver made a left-hand turn into traffic. But why did they do that?
LOWYWell, there could be a lot of reasons, but, you know, they're finding in a lot of these crashes, particularly the big ones that kill a lot of people, that there's fatigue there. And they're finding this not just in trucking but in motor coach drivers. They're finding it across all modes of transportation, in train operators and ship captains or, you know, pilots, air traffic controllers.
REHMBut we're concentrating on trucks, so let's not veer off too far. But, Jeff, you say that there are many trucking companies that want better safety regulations. How do you know that?
BURNSOur organization Parents Against Tired Truckers, along with the Truck Safety Coalition, which is a partnership with CRASH Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, work with the more responsible trucking companies that really do want more safe operations. Those companies are leaders in the industry. They're trying to pull the bad reputation of the trucking industry being sweatshops on wheels out and improve it. But it's a very competitive field.
BURNSThe two that come to mind -- the safety programs and the people leading the safety issues, in my mind, are J.B. Hunt and Schneider National. Those companies have taken the lead in screening drivers for sleep apnea, in identifying fatigue, and having truck driver -- or fatigue maintenance programs.
BURNSAnd so you've heard on -- about this particular crash, the Tracy Morgan crash that somebody has said, well, he was within his hours of service. The hours of service are maximum drive times and minimum rest times. Within those maximum drive times, a company is supposed to look at its operations and figure out, how does it operate within those most safely? And that...
REHMAll right. Let me interrupt you here. Gov. Graves, to comply with the rules, what does it cost the trucking companies?
GRAVESWell, let's just state right up front the company that that individual drives for, Wal-Mart, has one of the finest safety records in the industry. They vet and screen drivers probably to a greater extent than many other companies.
REHMI'm glad to hear that. Sure. OK.
GRAVESThey are a desirable company to drive for. And from what I'm gathering, this individual so desperately wanted a job driving for Wal-Mart that, while actually living somewhere else in this country, he was commuting an ungodly distance to start his on-duty time. And that's just wrong. And while I have no knowledge of this, I will bet you there will be a very close and clear examination of -- at Wal-Mart and probably amongst other fleets about individuals doing that same thing.
REHMI'm sure you're right.
GRAVESNow, I deserve the chance to respond because I'm reading from a study that FMCSA produced that says the large truck crash causation study estimates 30 percent for fatal crashes are the fault to the truck. That's FMCSA's data. That's not mine, Jeff. And...
BURNSThe overall crash (unintelligible) ...
GRAVESJust let me finish. I let you finish, Jeff.
REHMExcuse me, Jeff. Let him finish.
GRAVESOK. This is FMCSA's data assigns 30 percent to the fault of commercial vehicles. If you apply that to the universe of 4,000 crashes, you end up basically saying that there are 840 of those that were caused by a commercial vehicle. Now, we need to discuss how many of those had fatigue as a factor in them. I also have the memo from Ann Farrow where she admits in writing that that number is somewhere ranging...
REHMI don't know who that is.
LOWYShe's the head of the FMCSA.
GRAVESShe's the chief -- she's the boss.
GRAVESShe says fatigue is involved in seven to 18 percent of commercial vehicle crashes.
REHMBut isn't that in and of itself too much?
GRAVESBut the problem we have, Diane, is we're sitting here...
REHM...it's not numbers, Governor. It's not numbers. It's human beings, whether it's one or whether it's 1,700. It's one.
GRAVESThere's low-hanging fruit, Diane, that this agency could have a dramatic impact on safety in this nation if they would focus and get after it. Speed, inattentive driving, there's all sorts of significant factors. This is tragic in every instance, but it's not the most important one.
REHMOK. I asked you earlier, and I'd like a response, how much is the new rule costing the trucking industry?
GRAVESWell, it's costing driver's pay to some extent. We've...
REHMNo. It's -- we're not talking about drivers. I'm talking about the industry itself. What are the losses that you are experiencing monetarily because of the change in rules?
GRAVESWell, I can only give you an anecdotal example of an automotive manufacturer who told us, told Administrator Farrow that they spent $15 million more in the first quarter of 2014 for transportation costs that they didn't anticipate because of this rule -- $8 million, I'm sorry, expected to be $15 million for the year. So there is a cost...
REHMAnd tell me why.
GRAVESBecause, all of a sudden, some of the flexibility that you had with the ability to restart -- and that's another element of this issue that's very complicated, but you could restart more often than wants within -- whenever you ended up on the side of the road and you had a full 34 hours, you could call that a restart and go on with a full work week following that. Another element of this rule is it says you can't do that anymore. You can only restart one time. It's just a flexibility thing operationally that has changed the ability of some carriers and fleets to provide the same level of service they provided before.
REHMSo you would like to see rules regarding how many hours trucks can drive totally lifted.
GRAVESNo, no, no, no, no.
GRAVESWe're completely in support of everything that exists today in the form of driver's hours of service except for we think it's foolish to suggest two consecutive 1:00 to 5:00s leads us to this whole array of safer drivers. And we think it's unsafe.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Jeff, you wanted to jump in there.
BURNSI did. That's an example of a motor carrier that when it became allowed, rather than just have it be the exception for a driver who's stuck somewhere, to use that became part of the operations. And that's the problem with the rule. Remember that, without the rule at all, without any restart, a driver can drive and work 70 hours in eight days. Isn't that enough? The only purpose for this rule is to increase the number of hours that a driver can drive and decrease the number of hours that a driver has to rest. What the...
REHMAll right. And joining us now by phone from Philadelphia, David Dinges. He's a sleep expert at the University of Pennsylvania's Medical School. Thanks for joining us, sir.
PROF. DAVID DINGESThank you, Diane.
REHMTalk about the ideal conditions for a driver to become drowsy on the road.
DINGESWell, ideal and drowsy don't go well together. But the conditions that we know scientifically can produce an impaired driver from the standpoint of inadequate alertness is -- involved inadequate sleep either acutely or chronically, meaning either you go -- you stay awake too long in one period, or you sleep too little each night for a number of days.
DINGESDriving at night, not because of the darkness but because of the biological rhythm in the brain that reduces our alertness when we're awake at night, also contributes. And then medical disorders that promote excessive sleepiness by virtue of disrupting sleep, such as obstructive sleep apnea, which is the primary one because it's so widespread, it's prevalent, and it can be identified medically, those things all contribute to the driver potentially -- regardless of what the driver's driving, to potentially be less alert, less attentive and to vary in their overall ability to track anything they're trying to monitor as they do their work.
REHMTell me why drivers themselves may not always recognize they're about to fall asleep at the wheel.
DINGESThere is a fair amount of research now that it's difficult for people to know the precise moment they're going to fall asleep. They may feel sleepy. They may yawn. They may feel that they're able to keep going. But the nature of sleep itself is that the biology of it turns on even in the presence of the effort to stay awake.
DINGESAnd most people have experienced this where you suddenly find that not only are your eyelids closed, your head's falling over, or, worse yet, you find you're just waking up from a brief micro-sleep of a few seconds or minutes in the midst of something you're doing. Obviously, it doesn't matter if you're sitting and listening to a lecture, at least not normally, but it does matter if you're operating a moving object, a conveyance like a truck or a car.
REHMAnd indeed that restriction that drivers not be on the road from 1:00 am to 5:00 am, why, from your research -- or from your research -- does that make sense?
DINGESWell, it makes sense biologically, but, on the other hand, there is this legitimate point that you can produce an increased density of traffic by limiting when some vehicles can be on the road. And you could potentially then promote more accidents that may not be fatigue related but would nevertheless reduce safety.
DINGESAnd part of the argument here back and forth -- and I respect all of these people and their positions. But I'm not going to express any particular endorsement of the view except to say that they're all right. This is a serious and important issue. I think the -- what we need to do is obtain the data necessary to help federal policy and industry practices produce a safer roadway. And the question then is, what is that data, et cetera? A lot of what we rely on now are, number one, a focus on work hours and not sleep time.
REHMAll right. We've got to take a short break here. When we come back, we'll add your voices to the discussion. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about trucker safety for the safety of drivers on the road, both the truckers themselves and those in other vehicles. We have an email from Virginia. She says, "What's the maximum daily driving time in 24 hours?" And that is?
LOWYWell, you can -- 14 hours a workday, 11 hours behind the wheel. The other hours are usually spent unloading and loading.
REHMAnd 11 hours behind the wheel...
LOWYThere has to be a half an hour break in there.
REHMAnd here is another: "I've been a trucker for 17 years. I've never been more rested than now. I average almost 14 hours a day rest time and sleep a full 10 hours every day. The current hours of service have had nothing to do with promoting better rest." What do you think of that, Jeff?
BURNSWell, that driver is lucky. There are many drivers out there who are overdriven and are required to drive longer and harder than they should. In fact -- it's really scary to think about, but, of drivers surveyed, almost 48 percent of them admit that they have fallen asleep at the wheel of the truck within the past year. And one out of five, 20 percent, admit that they have fallen asleep at the wheel of the truck in the past 30 days.
REHMNow, Jeff, where does that research come from?
BURNSThose are driver surveys that have come from a variety of surveys. And I don't have the exact survey in front of me.
REHMI would think the governor may have competing figures on that. But...
GRAVESI would just say, Diane, that this industry has faced, and will continue to face, a chronic driver shortage. And if there's anyone in the situation that Jeff is describing, my advice to them is they should leave the company that they're driving for and go find a more reputable company who won't force them to do those types of things. There are many, many job openings available in this industry.
REHMI'm really questioning these 70 hours per week driving time. How many companies ask and demand that a driver be behind the wheel 70 hours a week?
GRAVESI would have no way of knowing.
REHMBut isn't that a safety hazard, 70 hours a week? I get sleepy behind the wheel one hour.
BURNSDiane, it's a huge problem. And driver fatigue has been identified by experts, not by safety -- not just by the safety advocacy community. But at the 1995 Truck and Bus Safety Summit convened by the secretary of transportation, they identified 17 safety issues that needed work, and they listed them by priority. Number one in priority was truck driver fatigue.
BURNSIt's a huge problem.
REHMOK. I'm going to open the phones, take a call from Los Angeles, Calif. Timmy, you're on the air.
TIMMYHi. Thank you very much. Mr. Graves, I often heard over and over again about how this rule, the 34-hour restart, is forcing night drivers to become day drivers. But I have a question. If that's the case, then that means that everybody works the same schedule. That 34-hour restart is the same for everyone, which means that hundreds of thousands of truck drivers are on the same schedule. And if their same 34-hour restart is scheduled at the same time, no, that's no correct. OK?
TIMMYI have had four members of my family killed by a large truck, OK, at 11:30 at night. I would like to see that the 34-hour restart provision stay in place, that truck drivers deserve the time to sleep two consecutive nights between the hours of 1:00 and 5:00 a.m. Mr. Graves, let me ask you this. I appreciate your support for the speed governors and electronic logs. Why are you so hell-bent on not letting these truck drivers sleep two periods between 1:00 and 5:00? Do you work that kind of schedule, Mr. Graves?
GRAVESWell, I'm sorry about your tragedy. I think the recent accident that probably brought us to this point is a good example of how a rule written on paper doesn't necessarily guide human behavior. We simply believe that an individual should get rest in a 34-hour window as they desire and feel compelled to rest. The government's notion that it can tell you to be tucked safely in your bed from 1:00 to 5:00 two consecutive nights just doesn't really square with how the real world works.
LOWYWell, I -- and our sleep expert on the line can probably add to this. But the National Transportation Safety Board says that drivers who drive at night, which is, you know, a lot of the truck drivers on the road, have trouble sleeping during the day, that it's the -- it goes against our body clocks. And then there are -- you know, if you just have any kind of light at all in the room, daylight at all, or if you've got family moving around in the house, or if the dog wants to go out, whatever, it's hard to get sleep during the day.
DINGESWell, there's no question that it is more difficult to sleep in the daytime. She's correct, and this is a biological phenomenon. You know, the real challenge we face in this area in general is trying to make a rule that would accommodate the enormous diversity of activities in an industry that's critical to the country and yet protect the lives of men and women and children who share the roads.
DINGESAnd the -- in the end, I think we're going to have to try to identify when -- how much sleep drivers are getting and when they're not getting adequate sleep or are simply on the road too long and when they're falling asleep in the cabs. And that means we've probably got to move towards a much more sophisticated use of technology here to understand whether a driver's becoming impaired so that there is a system in place that alerts the company. I mean, many companies now have GPS tracking on their trucks.
DINGESAt least know how long they're on the road. But this is a matter -- everybody owns this issue in a real sense. There's an ethical issue here. There's a legal issue, a scientific issue. There's a freedom of industry practice issue here. And in a sense, there's truth in what everyone says. But until we can understand how many drivers are falling asleep when, we cannot easily make a rule that will accommodate all of the needs.
DINGESAnd we may never be able to do that. This will eventually come down to safe and best practices in an industry. But certainly the public has a right to expect that, you know, a truck driver is not going to be impaired and have a crash. On the other hand, the trucking industry has a right to expect that car drivers are not going to be impaired and cause crashes.
DINGESSo it's just that the -- we've got to move our evidence base further. It's not that it's been a then a poor evidence base. It's just been inadequate in the standpoint that we have -- we've started with technologies to track the drivers (unintelligible) time.
REHMSure. OK. Let's take another call. Barry in Detroit, Mich., you're on the air.
BARRYThanks for having me, Diane.
BARRYThis is a -- I really enjoy your show and the subject today. I'm an over-the-road truck driver, and the two words that I don't hear so far in this discussion is driver responsibility. And, you know, some over-the-road truck drivers are on paper logs. Some are on electronic logs. And all these panelists here today know what that means.
BARRYAs far as electronic logs, once you start that 14-hour clock, you cannot stop it. And what I see on the road every day is a lot of guys that are unsafe because they are trying to get as far as they can within that 14 hours. And if you have an accident or traffic, if you're going through Chicago at a bad time, it gives you no flexibility to pull the truck over, take a nap, and be safe.
BARRYAnd that 1:00 to 5:00 scenario, while good in theory, as they said earlier, you have -- you know, if you take a road, you come off Monday morning and you go down and you deliver somewhere Tuesday or Wednesday morning, and then you're not supposed to (word?) up till Wednesday night, and you've had 14 -- or 10 hours off during that day Wednesday, how does your body adjust to sleeping Tuesday night and then sit all day Wednesday and drive out Wednesday night? There's just so many variables. And I think we're missing the driver responsibility portion of it.
REHMSure. All right. David Dinges, can you comment?
DINGESWell, there's no question. He's right. The drivers have significant responsibility for ensuring that they are alert enough to drive. And, again, I think we have to help them. I don't want to take the view that they're all cheating.
DINGESIt's a matter of helping them know when they're not -- they're no longer as attentive to the roadway. We've done some studies for DOT looking at technologies that would give a driver feedback on how alert they are. And these are publicly available documents through studies from NHTSA and Federal Motor Carrier.
DINGESAnd those technologies do help drivers, but we can do better than that. (unintelligible) do better.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Delevan, N.Y. Michelle, you're on the air.
MICHELLEHi. I just wanted to say I have a question about the Collins Amendment.
MICHELLEAnd she -- Sen. Collins was -- when she was introducing her amendment, I was watching it on -- streamed on the Internet, and she was saying something that was kind of confusing to me. And I was wondering if maybe, Jeff Burns, if you could help clear that up. I was kind of confused by the comments she made about -- and then somebody else used a phrase unintended consequences.
MICHELLEThat was the phrase she used. And I noticed it's become sort of the buzzword -- buzz phrase, rather. And I wanted some clearance here on this. Forcing the truck drivers on to the road, I think she said, was an unintended consequence of the rule that's just put in place by the FMCSA, I think, last year.
REHMAll right. Jeff, do you want to comment?
BURNSThat is a terrific comment, and it really drives a truck through their argument, if you pardon the phrase. They're -- remember, the rules are the maximum drive times and the minimum rest times. There is no rule that requires a driver to get on the road at 5:00 a.m. That assumes that they're going to stop at 7:00 the night before, and everybody's going to do that. The rest period just -- is a 10-hour rest period. I just has to include 1:00 to 5:00, so it could -- they could stop at midnight and start at 10:00. There's nobody putting all these trucks -- and I think that that was one of the comments of one of your prior callers, too.
BURNSAll these drivers have different schedules. There's -- that's a myth. And if it's not a myth, that means that the company that these drivers are working for are -- treat the maximum drive times as effectively as minimum drive times. So as soon as you can get back on that road, you need to get out there and drive your 11 hours. And that's the problem. The hours of service are supposed to be the parameters within which each company figures out the safe way to operate their trucks within a fatigue management program.
REHMAll right. OK. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Sheila in Pittsburgh, Penn. Hi there. You're on the air.
SHEILAThank you, Diane. Great show as usual.
SHEILAI just had two comments. First, my father was a trucker for more than 40 years, many of those years, over-the-road. And once they put a means of recording the hours driving in the trucks, my father felt forced by company policy to continue driving, even when it was against his better judgment. And my second comment is that, even if 70 percent of the crashes are not caused by the trucker, if the trucker was more alert, they might be able to avoid those crashes.
GRAVESWell, certainly I believe -- I think that part of the aggressive driving and speeding taking place in this country, unfortunately, as a former governor, it's actually being promoted by the states. States are raising speed limits and encouraging just not only passenger vehicles but trucks to go faster. That's why we believe there ought to be a national 65-mile-an-hour speed limit. And we think all commercial vehicles should be governed.
REHMBut what about the whole idea of having to drive because the rule of the company say you have to meet a certain target, and you go beyond your better judgment? Joan.
LOWYWell, it's my understanding that a lot of truckers are paid by the mile. And so they have an incentive, a built-in incentive, to drive as many miles as possible. And that puts them on the road, you know, as many hours as they can get in. And that's why there's a lot of fast turnaround.
BURNSDriver pay is a critical issue. When -- that place has all of the economic variables of driving on the back of the driver. Any time there's a slowdown in traffic, bad weather, he's got to slow down. If he has to stop for a crash in front of him, he's got to make up that time somehow, or it's taking money out of his family's pocket.
REHMOK. Joan Lowy, what is going to happen with Sen. Collins' proposal?
LOWYWell, it's in the Appropriations Bill in the Senate for the Department of Transportation. And it'll come to the floor next week. I am not aware yet of any effort to take it out. It passed by a vote of -- I forget -- I think it was about 21-9 in committee, so it had bipartisan support. All the Republicans on the committee and several Democrats supported it. Sen. Durbin and Sen. Feinstein spoke against it. But I'm not aware that there are plans to try and take it out.
REHMSo just to be clear, if Sen. Collins' portion of that bill passes, how does that affect the driver behind the wheel of trucks?
LOWYTwo ways. One, you can go back to taking that 34-hour restart every time -- after every work week as opposed...
GRAVESSo you can rest more.
LOWYAnd as opposed to having to take it every other week under the current rule. At least that's my understanding. And the -- you won't have the mandatory 1:00 to 5:00 hour -- you know, 1:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. off times...
REHMOff the roads.
LOWY...off the road. You know, so that means you can take that 35 hours mainly during -- you know, it's 34 hours mainly during daylight hours.
REHMAll right. And we will be watching to see what happens. Joan Lowy of The Associated Press, Bill Graves, former governor of Kansas, president and CEO of American Trucking Associations, Jeff Burns, national transportation counsel for Parents Against Tired Truckers, and David Dinges, professor and scientist, sleep expert at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, thank you all so much. And thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Denise Couture, Susan Casey Nabors, Rebecca Kaufman, Lisa Dunn, Danielle Knight, and Alison Brody. The engineer is Toby Schreiner. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts and podcasts. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington, D.C. This is NPR.
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