When I heard that the sheriff’s deputy who killed two bicyclists on Sunday told people he’d fallen asleep, I’m sure I wasn’t alone in being reminded of personal experiences of drowsy driving.
To start with, there’s right now. I’m jet-lagged from last week’s vacation (thus explaining the stale blog) and will probably drive home tonight.
I can think of too many instances of leaning forward, clutching the steering wheel, eyes bugging out, munching on grotesquely spiced snack foods to keep from dozing.
“Stop and get a motel room,” my wife would tell me over the mobile. “Don’t be fatally cheap.” She has special standing on this point, having lost her dad to “that sleep of death,” to misquote Shakespeare.
The reported further details of Sunday’s tragedy also dredged up some nagging issues. The driver who killed the bicyclists had reportedly worked more than 12 hours on Saturday, and then had to come in early Sunday to work again.
Federal regulators, operating under the laissez-faire philosophy of our current government, have been at odds with highway safety advocates seeking stricter shift/sleep standards for truckers.
And just the other week, I was chatting up tug boat captains about Coast Guard regulations governing the towing of such things as massive oil tank barges. They were worried about requirements to operate towboats, but they gave the lack of sleep regulations as another example of the agency’s business-enslaved philosophy.
Nearly a decade ago the National Transportation Safety Board added this to its “most wanted” list of government safety regulations:
Establish within 2 years scientifically based hours-of-service regulations that set limits on hours of service, provide predictable work and rest schedules, and consider circadian rhythms and human sleep and rest requirements.
Last year, the NTSB chided the Coast Guard for having failed to act. If you thought the bike tragedy was bad, hearken back to 1993, when an inexperienced crew member rammed the barge he was pushing (the captain was alseep) into a bridge abutment while his captain slept. It was a railroad bridge, and Amtraks’ Sunset Limited soon derailed off of that bridge into Bayou Canot and killed 42 in the railroad’s worst-ever accident.
I’m no fan of the nanny state, but when it comes to keeping employers honest about little life-or-death details like shift differential and qualifications, I challenge anyone to argue that the government should look the other way.