How Trucking Regulations Vary in Alaska
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) maintains specific regulations for drivers in Alaska that allow for more consecutive driving hours. Under this hours of service (HOS) exemption, truck drivers may have 15 hours of driving time instead of the standard 11.
Why the Exemption Exists
Truck drivers have always had a unique relationship with the Alaskan terrain. Because of how vast and dangerous the landscape can be, the FMCSA chose to reduce the regulations to accommodate how much longer it takes to get from one end of the state to the other. This allows for ample time to make deliveries, meet deadlines, and have an extended rest break between shifts.
In addition to the 15 hours of service regulation, truck drivers in Alaska also have 20 hours of on-duty time, compared to the 14 (total) that drivers in other states adhere to. You can see a full breakdown of how a schedule with and without a violation may look here.
What Effects Can This Have?
Having extended driving times can affect trucking companies in numerous ways. Not only can this lead a truck to require more maintenance and upkeep, especially in the winter months, but it can impact the drivers themselves. One of the most noticeable differences one may see between a truck driver in Alaska and other states is that the former may have higher rates of driver fatigue.
The Dangers of Driver Fatigue
Even with the standard HOS that truck drivers in the lower 48 adhere to, driver fatigue remains a persistent issue. According to the Large Truck Crash Causation Study (LTCCS) from the FMCSA, about 13% of truck accidents involve a drowsy truck driver. While this statistic encompasses all truck collisions, Alaska drivers may feel the effects of driver fatigue more.
The Alaska exemption accounts for a minimum of eight hours off-duty time per day, although this does not necessarily have to be consecutive. This means that a driver may be on-duty and operating the truck for 15 to 20 hours without having the required amount of consecutive off-duty time across two days. Because of this, you may see higher rates of driver fatigue among this group.
With this knowledge, it’s crucial to understand the effects that driver fatigue can have on driving, aside from making up a large proportion of crash causation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that drowsiness can have similar effects on the body as alcohol. In fact, being awake for 17 to 19 consecutive hours can impact performance in the same way as having a BAC of 0.05%. Further research shows that reaction times are 50% slower and maneuver accuracy significantly declines, which only worsens with longer periods without sleep.
Residual Impacts on Other Motorists
In addition to the exemption impacting the amount of rest time that a truck driver may receive, it can also have residual impacts on other motorists on the road. Here are a few things to consider:
Driving Under the Influence
Drivers may use their off-duty time to have dinner and a drink. It's important to remember that truckers cannot consume alcohol within four hours of going on duty or have a BAC above 0.04%. Drinking and driving has proven to increase your risk of a collision, and the consequences can be that much more severe in a large truck.
As mentioned previously, driving a truck for long hours without stopping for fuel or maintenance check ups can impact other drivers on the road. About 6% of fatal truck crashes are caused by vehicle issues like mechanical failure or tire problems.
While this exemption may be useful in meeting delivery deadlines and completing trips efficiently, truck drivers should use their rest times appropriately and understand how their actions can impact others on the road.
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