Bentonville -- In response to the needs of big corporations like Wal-Mart and UPS, this nation's truckers are required to drive as many as 11 hours in a single shift, and be out on the road six days out of seven. But they're not complaining. "I'm not earning unless those wheels are turnin'" said "Mighty" Mo Bandag, an Illinois trucker who works for Werner Transportation, and moonlights for Stevens.
Ordinary drivers may feel fatigued after only seven or eight hours behind the wheel, but not the special breed of men driving 58,000 pound big-rigs. "With 18 wheels humming, you naturally can go longer and further than someone with only four. Cruise control lets drivers climb back in the cab for a brief snooze on long, straight Interstates," according to Kenworth spokesman Ken Worthy.
Statistics prove that only 5.5% of all truck accidents occur in the 10th or 11th hour of driving, according to FMCSA spokesperson Spokey Person. Although a fresh driver may be able to AVOID accidents occuring in the 7th, 8th, and 9th hours that a weary driver will plow right into, that doesn't matter. "Statistics don't lie" said Spokey. Only spokespersons."
Talking on the CB radio, listening to the radio, climbing out on the hood and scrubbing the windshield are techniques experienced drivers use to stay awake during long hauls, not to mention onboard satellite TV.
Rumors of crystal meth use by truckers desparate to stay awake and complete their runs are "completely unfounded" said American Trucking Association spokesperson Azz Sosciation. We may occasionally see a trucker with a six pack of Jolt! cola in his cab, but most truckers would rather fall asleep at the wheel than fall prey to the effects of stimulants. Besides, stimulants make you pee all the time. Ever heard of "Trucker's Tea?"
Rising from an unmarked grave somewhere in New Jersey, Teamster Union President James Hoffa (Editor's correction, his son) asked "What reasonable person who has traveled our nation's roads and highways thinks that forcing tired truck drivers to stay behind the wheel even longer is good public policy?"
For 60 years, truckers could only drive for 10 consecutive hours. On Jan. 1, 2004, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration changed the rule to allow them another hour behind the wheel. "God only knows these guys need the money. At seventeen cents per mile, another hour means another, let's see... eleven bucks."
Annette Sandberg, lying through her orthodontically straightened pearly-white teeth, said the new rule is backed by research and was designed to reduce the number of crashes caused by fatigued drivers. "That's complete bullshit, said Joan Claybrook, president of the safety group Public Citizen.
Claybrook said the FMCSA's own data show that deaths resulting from large truck crashes are up 3.1 percent from 2003 to 2004.
Uncoveringthe first evidence of stink, the Transportation Department's Inspector General is evaluating whether it should investigate allegations by four safety groups that the truck-safety agency held improper meetings with trucking industry representatives"
"It's rather like Dick Cheney allowing Enron and the other energy companies to set this nation's energy policy, in meetings held behind closed doors."
The bottom line is that the rule, which will take effect Oct. 1, will save short-haul companies at least $280 million, at least 2 or 3 of which you can bet will get kicked back to the Repugnicans in the form of political donations.