Trucking “Safety” Isn’t Keeping Anyone Safer

Trucking “Safety” Isn’t Keeping Anyone SaferThe dangers of commercial trucking are fairly well known. Driver fatigue is a leading factor in deaths and catastrophic accidents. Too many trucking companies want their deliveries made yesterday. The simple reality is that the farther a driver of a tractor-trailer or 18-wheeler drives, the more deliveries he/she can make. More deliveries normally mean a happier boss and more money. Unfortunately, more deliveries also mean more driver fatigue – which makes for more truck accidents.

Other common factors that cause truck accidents include driving while intoxicated and driving while distracted. Driving a truck can be very lonely. Drivers can be away from their friends and family for days or even weeks at a time. Some drivers turn to alcohol to relax at the end of the day. Many truck drivers use their smartphones and entertainment devices, which take their eyes off of traffic, hands off the steering wheels, and minds off of emergencies.

In some respects, the dangers of truck driving are getting worse. The decreased pay compared to prior decades, the long hours away from home, and the lack of comforts at rest stops and truck stops during the day and after hours means that the trucking industry cannot find new drivers to replace the drivers who are retiring. Companies are rushing young workers on the road by offering higher starting pay and other incentives at the price of experience.

Why aren’t current remedies making the trucking industry safer?

A recent report in The New Yorker magazine discussed how regulations such as the federal hours of service laws that limit how long drivers can be on the road before resting or sleeping aren’t working as intended because many drivers just drive faster to make up the distance they lose by not being on the road as long. The magazine reported on a recent study about how many safety regulations aren’t working effectively.

The author of the study wrote a book titled “Data Driven: Truckers, Technology, and the New Workplace Surveillance.” Per The New Yorker, it’s a “rigorous and surprisingly entertaining ethnographic portrait of a profession in transition.”

The study begins by discussing how truck drivers, to track their hours of service, were required to keep manual logs. The problem with the paper entries was that drivers would just manually change them to match their journey. In response, the government mandated that truck drivers use electronic logs that couldn’t be altered because the logs were hardwired to the engines of the truck. Truck drivers complied but they weren’t happy about being monitored. Making matters more uncomfortable for the truck drivers is that the new electronic logging devices (ELDs) track fuel efficiency too.

In addition to “forcing” drivers to drive faster to make up for the time they need to rest, the monitoring and resulting unhappiness mean more drivers are leaving the trucking profession. A third problem is that technology doesn’t work well if the people who use it cannot understand it. According to the author of the study, many law enforcement officers are confused about how the ELDs are supposed to work. To help persuade the police that they were in compliance, truckers began using decals that “seemed” to indicate the trucker was in compliance but actually just indicated the truck had the proper device.

The study’s author said the ELD devices aren’t addressing the real problem, which is that drivers are being paid based on how much they drive. This is in addition to not being paid overtime (based on the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938) and reduced wages that started in the 1970s – “In 1980, the median income for a trucker was a hundred and ten thousand dollars in today’s dollars; today, the average trucker brings home less than half of that.”

Other safety and truck management features that have unintended consequences and possible negative consequences include:

  • Artificial Intelligence. The study discussed in The New Yorker says that even hours of service electronic logging devices may become obsolete because “biometric cameras that can monitor a truckers’ eyelids for fatigue, or biometric vests that can detect a heart attack” may become the norm – another invasion into a driver’s privacy that may make trucking a less desirable job. The author notes, “AI in trucking today doesn’t kick you out of the cab, it texts your boss and wife, flashes lights in your eyes, and gooses your backside.”
  • Cruise control. When trucks are on cruise control, a driver is less likely to be focused on anticipating and responding to emergency situations and more likely to be distracted by tasks the driver can do with one or both hands.
  • Incentives for young truck drivers. Driving a truck isn’t a simple task. For starters, drivers need a commercial license to drive. Every type of truck is different. There are a lot of logistics to driving a truck safely, such as driving when there are blind spots and making wide turns. Truck drivers need years of experience and working relationships with older drivers before they can be good at their job. Young drivers are more likely to make mistakes that can be deadly or cause catastrophic harm.

New technology can be beneficial in many ways, however. Automated brake systems, software that helps keep a driver in his/her lane, and other technology can save lives. On the other hand, if autonomous trucking completely takes over, many human drivers will become unemployed.

How the trucking industry can help

The future doesn’t have to look so grim. The trucking industry – if it wants to – can help contribute to a safe driving environment for everyone. Tech company Hotel Engine notes several ways trucking companies can help increase driver retention:

  • Be forthcoming about the job, including expectations about pay, schedule, and duties.
  • Set goals, celebrate them, and make sure drivers feel appreciated.
  • Invest in good equipment and maintain it regularly.
  • Keep drivers safe by booking hotel rooms when necessary.

Per Hotel Engine to fleet owners, “Trucking is an important but taxing occupation. Any steps you can take to make life on the road a bit easier are sure to have a positive impact.”

Our Minot truck accident lawyers understand the unique dangers involved with driving a truck and the unique challenges in pursuing a truck accident claim. There are often multiple defendants. The injuries are often more serious than car accidents and also more deadly.

The Larson Law Firm P.C. has been fighting for truck accident victims for more than 40 years. We’re skilled at investigating the cause of the accident, holding wrongdoers accountable, and obtaining just compensation for your financial and personal injuries – from the liable defendants. Call our Minot office today or fill out our contact form to schedule a free consultation. We maintain offices in Minot, Bismarck, and Fargo.