Fatigue enforcement lawsuit kicks off in Minnesota

| 9/13/2010

Monday, Sept. 13, marked the kickoff of the trial in the lawsuit challenging arbitrary fatigue enforcement programs filed by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association against the Minnesota State Patrol in mid-2009.

The Association filed the lawsuit May 13, 2009, with the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota on behalf of truck drivers placed out of service and in some cases fined after members of the Minnesota State Patrol arbitrarily arrived at the conclusion the drivers were “fatigued.”

The discovery of a seemingly random checklist of items that supposedly indicated fatigue did more than just raise an eyebrow at OOIDA. The list included things like the presence of a TV, reading material, a cell phone – to name a few – as signs of fatigue.

But, that was just the tip of the iceberg.

The Association launched a survey as part of its research into the program asking drivers if they had been put out of service as a result of Minnesota’s fatigue enforcement program.

In addition to OOIDA’s member plaintiff Stephen K. House, many others were subjected to out-of-service orders based off arbitrary determinations of fatigue, the survey revealed.

One trucker reported he was placed out of service during a Level III inspection by the Minnesota State Patrol.

He had been off-duty for more than 18 hours – a point confirmed by his company’s on-board fleet management system – before beginning his driving time. He had only been driving for two hours before he was placed out of service for “fatigue.”

Unfortunately, he was terminated by his motor carrier because of the out-of-service order.

Another trucker encountered the enforcement program 100 yards from his destination in Minneapolis. The state patrol officer subjected the driver to “fatigue evaluation” and put him out of service on the spot. He was not allowed to leave the curbside.

The one bad out-of-service inspection hurt him far beyond that one delivery.

The trucker operates under his own authority. In the previous 30 months, he had been inspected only three times. No violations were found in any of those inspections. Yet the one out-of-service inspection raised his company’s driver safety evaluation area score in SafeStat to a 74 – one mere point from a deficient rating of 75.

Other drivers reported being put out of service after driving only 27 miles at the beginning of their day or 45 minutes after completing a 10-hour break.

While it is outrageous that the repercussions of being put out of service can be career ending in some cases, the way the Minnesota State Patrol officers arrived at the determination to put drivers out of service for fatigue can only be considered reprehensible.

Other drivers responding to OOIDA’s survey recounted their experiences of being asked to “answer a few questions” or “take a quick survey.”

Drivers were asked about their shirt size, whether they had televisions or microwaves, things of that nature. However, the survey also revealed a disturbing trend of law enforcement officers asking drivers about their sex lives – including inquiring about sexual partners, porn and the frequency of masturbation.

In other cases drivers reported that when they declined to participate in the “survey,” they were threatened with out-of-service orders for refusing.

With the trial slated to start today, Monday, Sept. 13, with OOIDA President and CEO Jim Johnston slated as one of the first witnesses, the Minnesota State Patrol abruptly pulled the plug on the fatigue enforcement program early this month.

An internal memo from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety dated Sept. 2, 2010, advises state patrol enforcement personnel that commercial vehicle driver fatigue enforcement activities are temporarily suspended. According to the memo, there will be no fatigue enforcement until officers get new training – and that, even then, officers in the field will have to check with a supervisor before placing a driver out of service.

The trial is expected to take between three days and a week.

– By Jami Jones, senior editor

Editor’s note: Land Line Magazine will provide daily updates throughout the course of the trial. Updates will also air nightly on Land Line Now on Sirius 147, XM 171.