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According to a 2008 study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a total of 13 percent of Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) drivers were considered to have been fatigued at the time of their accidents. Driver fatigue may be caused by a lack of sleep, extended work hours, strenuous work or non-work activities, or a combination of other factors.

Whatever causes it, it’s dangerous, increasing risk of accidents and injuries. The National Sleep Foundation reports that those who drive a high number of miles and drive at night are at significantly higher risk for fall-asleep crashes. They add that people who work night shifts or double shifts have a six-fold increase in drowsy driving crashes.

That’s what seems to be happening in the oil fields of Ohio. The “New York Times” reports that over the past decade, more than 300 oil and gas workers were killed in highway crashes—the largest cause of fatalities in the industry. The Times adds that many of these were due in part to oil field exemptions that allow truckers to work longer hours than drivers in most other industries.

Driver Exemptions for Oil and Gas Field Workers

The FMCSA generally limits truck drivers carrying cargo to 60 driving hours in a seven-day period, after which drivers have to take at least 34 hours off. Drivers in the oil and gas industry, however, are exempt from this rule, and can start again after 24 hours—even if those 24 hours are spent in the sleeper berth. Some drivers can also count the time they spend waiting at well sites as “off duty,” excluding that time from their daily hours.

Truckers in this industry are regularly encouraged to drive after a 20-hour shift. Colorado’s “High Country News” reports that oil and gas field truckers typically work 12-hour shifts seven to 14 days in a row.

The Times states that the threat posed by fatigued truckers on the road will “grow substantially in coming years,” as more than 200,000 new oil and gas wells are drilled nationwide over the next decade. This will lead to far more truckers on the road—truckers that are likely to be working long hours without rest.

Failed Attempt to Change Exemptions

In addition to driver fatigue, truck maintenance problems may also contribute to an increase in accidents. The Times states that oil and gas workers frequently drive trucks that are in disrepair. Pennsylvania State Police stated that 40 percent of 2,200 oil and gas industry trucks inspected from 2009 to February 2012 were in such bad condition they had to be taken off the roads.

In 2000, federal highway authorities lobbied Congress to remove some of the exemptions to improve highway safety, but their efforts were unsuccessful.

Fatigued Driving Leaves Victims Behind

In November 2013, two Maine mothers whose sons died after being hit by a truck driver who had fallen asleep behind the wheel sent a letter to Congressman Mike Michaud, a candidate for Governor of Maine, expressing their opposition to any increase in hours of service for truck drivers. Michaud is cosponsor of the TRUE Safety Act, H.R. 3413, which would lengthen the already long hours that truck drivers work each week.

Daphne Izer, Founder of Parents Against Tired Truckers (PATT), lost her son, Jeff, when a truck driver fell asleep and ran over the car he and three of his friends were in. Christina Mahaney, the other mother involved with the letter, lost her son when a truck driver fell asleep behind the wheel, overturned, and released his load of logs into the family’s home.

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