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The Hours Between Night and Day

Posted: October 30, 2014 by Jim Park

Who are we to believe? Two studies by credible researchers coming to diametrically opposite conclusions. It reminds me of a line a from a Dire Straits song: “Two men say they’re
Jesus. One of them must be wrong.” Our natural inclination would be to dismiss both of them, yet there’s an outside
chance that one of them could be the real McCoy.

Who do we believe? More importantly, how would we verify either of their claims?

In early March, researchers at Virginia Tech’s Transportation Institute published results of a study that concluded a greater risk for collision exists during the first hour of a trucker’s shift. In November 2005, researchers at Penn State released results of a study that
concluded the crash risk for truck drivers in the eleventh
hour behind the wheel is more than three times higher than
during the first hour.

Who’s right?

My money is on Virginia Tech, they have the better
football team. Virginia Tech’s Hokies went 11 and three last
year, while Penn State managed only a nine-and-four season. How can you take seriously a university that doesn’t take its football seriously?

Well, that criteria is no better or no worse than any other judgment we could bring to the two crash correlation studies – without the benefit of personal experience.

If the Penn State study was to be believed, how would we
explain our 13-hour driving day? We must be accidents
looking for a place to happen.

But seriously, I really do think the Virginia Tech study
has some merit. It claimed, for example, that there was a
strong correlation between crash risk and time of day, and
attributed that correlation to hour-by-hour traffic density

In addition, Virginia Tech’s researchers found a significant spike in the rate of critical incidents during the first driving-hour, concluding that exposure to heavy traffic
conditions, and possibly sleep inertia and an increase in
complex driving situations may be to blame for increases
in crashes or near misses recorded in that time period.

It’s probably safe to assume that the first hour of a driving shift takes place early in the morning. That’s when
drivers-like the rest of the world-are rushing to get
somewhere and probably haven’t yet inhaled their quota of Starbucks’ best. I think there is some correlation between
sleep inertia and decision-making and precision driving.

What’s really interesting is that the Virginia Tech study
all but takes fatigue out of the equation as a causal factor.

Surely, people fresh out of bed with eight to 10 hours of sleep under their belt can’t be described as fatigued. Sleepy, maybe, but not tired to the point of being inattentive.I couldn’t say how many times over the years I’ve left home on a Sunday afternoon after a weekend off-with a full slate of hours in the logbook – but couldn’t get two hours from the house without stopping for a nap. There were times I was moments away from dropping off to sleep. I always yanked it over for an hour’s nap.

Had I wrecked, would it have been deemed a fatigue-related crash? It should have been, but how could they prove it?

There’s currently no method of quantifying fatigue – in the way we measure, say, blood alcohol content. Accident investigators rely on personal assessments in determining if fatigue was a factor at the time of a crash.

They also rely on logbooks.

Interestingly, if the driver for some reason is outside the
legal limits on hours of service, he is automatically deemed to be fatigued, or, if the logbook isn’t up to date, they come to the same conclusion. An hours-of-service violation means it was a fatigue-related incident.

From personal experience, I’m most certain that driving hours recorded in a logbook do not accurately reflect a
driver’s level of “tiredness”- within reason.

I’m a night owl, and have been for as long as I can remember – it’s 2:45a.m. as I write this. I’m not much use to anyone before 9:00 or 10:00 in the morning, as my colleagues will attest, and by 4:30 or so, I’m ready for a nap. If you think about it, there’s nothing wrong with my body clock, it’s just about three hours out of sync with the world around me.

It’s too bad HOS doesn’t allow for some driver discretion in delivery planning. I’d bet we’d see fewer accidents if drivers had a say in when they were expected to perform.

A former owner-operator,Jim Park is the editor of highwaySTAR magazine. Reach him at 416/614-5811 or


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