How Often Should Drivers Work?

The debate of how frequenly truck drivers can and should work is nothing entirely new, however the mandated hours of operation for truck drivers is still a large issue within the industry.

In 2013, the Department of Transportation decided on a weekly cap for hours a driver can work and when how often they can work. This cap decreased the number of hours in a week drivers can legally operate in addition to establishing a “reset-period” - a time in which drivers must rest before taking on more hours.

Driver sleeping behind the wheel

The DOT’s cap reduced the number of working hours a week from 82 to 70, established a 34 hour rest period that including at least two nights containing the hours 1-5 a.m. and mandated that all drivers must take 30 minute break in the first 8 hours of driving. 

While the DOT may have declared some judgements that are polarizing within the community of truck drivers, there are individuals looking at both sides of the argument – safety and livelihood of drivers.

Drivers Facing Less Work?

One major complaint that has arisen within the trucking industry is the inability to work as many hours as was once possible before the DOT ruling. Drivers could potentially expect 82 hours of work a week prior to the new operation procedures, now losing a maximum of 12 hours a week. This translates to nearly 50 hours of work per month lost – and depending on a driver’s pay, this may mean an enormous fiscal step backwards.

Truck drivers must also abide by the reset ruling in taking mandatory rests for 34 hours before facing another batch of work. Drivers may be upset by this because they are being told how to manage their routes and exactly how frequently they may run. For an occupation with a fair amount of personal freedom, this may contradict the trucking lifestyle many have become accustomed to.

Finally, drivers may feel as though the DOT is attempting to intervene in an industry that is doing rather well. As one of the fastest growing industries in the United States, truck drivers may argue that more hours available to drivers could only bolster a burgeoning scene – but without the legal ability to do so, there is no room to test this theory.

In Support of the DOT Ruling

For truck drivers and trucking companies who support the recent changes to hours of operation, a primary issue near and dear to them is safety. The DOT argues that drivers who are allowed to work for 82 hours a week are facing extreme fatigue and may ultimately be a concern on the road. This former number is double what is considered to be full-time within many other industries in the nation.

Additionally, without a prescribed rest period, drivers could potentially work the full amount of weekly hours and then some in one time frame – perhaps spelling constant driving. This type of trucking may require drivers to use caffeine, nicotine, or other substances to stay awake the entire time, and these may greatly affect the health of the driver personally, as well as jeopardize others on the road. The DOT considered that drivers need to have time off to rest their bodies and gain valuable and deep sleep. Without having the necessary sleep, it is unlikely that drivers may be able to function well and properly deliver on the job.

Nice bed inside big rig

In defense of the DOT, it is unlikely the agency is attempting to minimize paychecks for drivers, rather, they are concerned with safety and saving money that could go into more job creation for future truckers. The DOT estimates that by capping hours of operation, $280 million can be saved in preventing crashes and accidents, and personal driver health can improve so greatly, the nation will see $470 million in savings.

The Outcome

According to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the comparison of crashes and in 2014 compared to 2013 and 2012 remain largely unchanged, with an increase in the number of injuries. This may be due to an inability to truly compare data well with only one year of verified figures, but it may mean something greater. Truck driving is inherently a perilous job – perhaps reducing hours of service will make a difference in the long run, but for now the figures aren’t showing a significant change in safety.

Still, with the DOT demanding changes or not, drivers should ensure that they are personally responsible for their safety. Given 70 hours of work before a break does not mean that a driver necessarily can complete them with safety and confidence, but they certainly have the ability to do so.

(For more tips on how to stay safe on the road, read our article here.)

Safety will come down to an efficient and working relationship between the company and the driver, employing communication as a means of establishing realistic and safe driving practices.