By Jami Jones
It’s been a long hard day on the road. Dodging crazy maneuvering four-wheelers and dealing with “we wanted it yesterday” receivers have taken their toll.
The truck is parked, and it’s time to unwind.
You can’t wait to slip into the bunk, pull the curtains, flip on the TV and catch up on entering some receipts on your computer. After enjoying the antics on “Two and a Half Men” and logging in the day’s receipts, a quick snack before bed seems like just the thing.
Belly full, mentally unwound, you drift off to sleep.
Back on the road the next day, you whip into a scale in Minnesota. They ask if you would mind participating in a “survey.”
Running ahead of time, feeling rather giving, you agree.
Next thing you know they are interested in that television and computer in your bunk. The fact you neglected to make your bed seems to be a lot more intriguing than it should be. And they seem awfully concerned about the fact you have food in your truck and actually ate some last night with the wrappers as evidence in your trash can.
Survey says: You’re fatigued and dinged with an OOS order, possibly a fine and a black mark on your SafeStat score.
No, it’s not some sort of bad trucker dream; it’s reality. Pinch yourself all you want, but you are awake, out of service and saddled with a fine all under the guise of fatigue enforcement.
That’s pretty much what happened to OOIDA member Steve House.
When he was stopped in May of 2008 at the Red River Weigh Station in Minnesota, he thought he was going to take a little survey.
The officials at the facility said it was just a questionnaire, a conversation they were going to have. No harm here, they said, just a little talk.
“They just kept on going and asking me a bunch of goofy questions. It really didn’t make no sense to me,” House said. “They never really told me what they were doing.”
What they were doing was walking Steve through what officials in the state call the “Fatigued Driving Evaluation Checklist” as part of a set of procedures supposedly tailored to determine driver fatigue.
The system was developed in Minnesota. It includes a series of questions about the condition of the truck, the sleeper, the cab and the driver – a list that officers claim can help determine whether a trucker is or is not fatigued.
The discovery of this sort of enforcement program did more than just raise an eyebrow at the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. The Association immediately began to dig and find out more about the procedures – how and why they came to be and what, if any, real credibility they have.
The Association’s findings were highlighted in an in-depth investigation by Land Line Now Host Mark Reddig that aired in April.
During the course of the series, listeners heard from the man behind the enforcement program, Capt. Ken Urquhart. He told Reddig that he came up with the idea after attending a leadership conference at Northwestern University. He did a research project on driver fatigue.
Later on, a program was developed to determine if a trucker was fatigued, with a checklist as part of the program. While Reddig pressed Urquhart on the role the checklist plays, Urquhart danced around the questions by either avoiding them or becoming almost combative when defending it.
Reddig turned to the experts – Tom Weakley, director of OOIDA’s Foundation, the Association’s research arm, and Dr. John McElligott, a licensed, practicing MD.
Neither one had positive things to say about the superficial nature of the fatigue enforcement program and the use of the checklist.
“Part of my job is to do research … and to study research that’s being done,” Weakley said. “I have studied just about every bit of research that’s been done on driver fatigue in the past 10 years. I’ve got volumes of those things in my office. And I don’t remember a single study that equated bad teeth, magazines in the sleeper cab, and those kinds of things (with) fatigue by any researcher I have ever looked at.”
McElligott could find no medical basis for including a dirty truck, truck maintenance, a messy sleeper berth or a dirty cab on a list of items to determine fatigue.
“Especially in this economy,” he said. “That has no medical basis whatsoever.”
He had a similar reaction to use of items like computers, cell phones, pets, clothing in the sleeper, a full wastebasket or a full urine bottle, all of which are on the checklist – saying in each case he found no medical basis for including them.
But McElligott saved his strongest reaction for two particular items on the list – sleep apnea, which can earn you a checkmark, and the presence of a CPAP, the device used to treat apnea – which will also earn you a checkmark.
“I don’t understand what they’re trying to accomplish there,” he said. “Obviously, if you have a CPAP, you can’t take a card and do a reading right there on the road. So it’s not useful to determine fatigue.”
Discovery of the fatigue enforcement procedures, outrage from truckers, and legal research showing a violation of constitutional rights was all the Association needed to move forward with a lawsuit.
The Association’s lawsuit challenges the subjective method of determining drivers are fatigued on a variety of different legal grounds. (See more on the lawsuit at right.) LL
Land Line Now Host Mark H. Reddig contributed to this report.
Editor’s note: Visit landlinenow.com to see a copy of the fatigue checklist and to read the four-part series by Mark Reddig.