Matthew L. Wald, in the article “A Study of Truckers’ Need for Sleep Raises New Alarms”
located in the issue of the New York Times dated October 13, 1997, attempts to convey the results of a
study conducted by the United States Transportation Department on the sleep deprivation of truck drivers.
The author makes valid points on the issue but fails to back up these points with enough supportive
The study was done to show how a new set of regulations could be structured. In order to
determine how to draft a new set of laws to govern truck drivers, eighty long-distance truck drivers,
working a combined four thousand hours a week, were studied. These drivers drove just under two-
hundred fifty thousand miles while their brain waves, vital signs, and eye movements were recorded by
researchers (1). Although these are facts, the author should have explained them a little better. Nothing
else is said about the truck drivers being monitored by researcher with electronic equipment. Why they
were monitored in this means should be explained.
Wald shows that the study shed light upon the fact that clear cut answers could not be found to the
question of how much sleep a driver needs to be aware of his surroundings. “By measuring behavior ? as
opposed to the more frequent technique of asking people how they felt ? the researchers demonstrated that
some of the people who slept the least did not become drowsy behind the wheel, but that some who slept
more had numerous episodes of drowsiness” (1). This shows that all people need different amounts of
sleep to be able to stay awake and alert. Another interesting fact that the study showed was that people
who worked at night needed more sleep than those who worked during the day. During the week of the
study, the eighty drivers followed all of the federal regulations. Some of the drivers did appear to dose off
while driving, but fortunately none of them had any accidents (1). The author’s points are very valid, but
details are not given on the factors that determine!
how much sleep a person requires. There is no evidence that shows why people need different amounts of
The study was performed to structure a new set of rules to govern the trucking industry.Since
the current rules governing the trucking industry were formed in 1937, it will be a difficult task to draft a
new set of rules including all of the results of the study. The current laws allow drivers to work fifteen
hours a day, but no more than ten hours can be driven in that same day. After a ten hour driving period, a
driver must be allowed an eight hour break (1-2). These facts cannot be disputed, but there is the missing
presence of detail. Wald fails to go into detail of the some of the more definite rules of truck driving such
as the log book.
The study brings out some of the dangers of sleep deprivation and some possible way to curb the
problem. The United States Transportation Department blames the problem on drivers who falsely fill out
logbooks and bend rules. One good example of a driver falling asleep behind the wheel because of broken
rules is: the “one who fell asleep on the Cross Westchester Expressway in White Plains on July 27, 1994,
crashing his propane truck into a bridge support. The driver, Peter G. Conway, 23, had slept no more than
5.5 hours while working two days straight before the accident, the National Transportation Safety Board
later determined. He was killed and 23 people were injured in their houses when the truck touched off an
inferno in a residential neighborhood (2).” The Transportation department rarely acts on driving companies
whose drivers falsely fill in logbooks on a routine basis. One day after the article was published in “The
New England Journal” last month, Transportation!
Secretary Rodney E. Slater made a plea for extra powers of enforcement, including higher fines for those
who break the rules and more freedom to take these drivers off the highways. Some argue that if all rules
and regulations are followed, there will still be accidents from drivers who fall asleep (2). The example
was a good way to show what can happen to a driver when the rules are broken. The point is valid because
the author has made a true statement with facts that cannot be rightfully disputed. Evidence is given on
what Rodney Slater wants to do. This was a good section for Wald. It was explained very nicely.
The study reveals that a new set of laws need to be constructed. To draft new laws to govern the
trucking industry, the U.S. Transportation Department needs to know why drivers will pull onto a highway
without a sufficient amount of sleep. This a major flaw in Wald’s report. This point is not even addressed
in his report. The reason why these drivers drive without sleep is not answered. Truck drivers will drive
without sleep to make more money. The faster a driver can arrive with a shipment, the more he will get
paid. Sometimes, if something goes wrong, like a traffic jam or a flat tire, the driver will need to make up
time, so he or she will drive without sleep (2). If anything is to be changed about truck driving, it should be
the method of payment for driving. Drivers should get paid by the length of the trip not by the speed a
driver can arrive at destination
This was not the first study done on the issue of sleep deprivation among truck drivers. From a
study, made by the Transportation Department two years ago, an estimated fifteen to thirty percent of all
fatal truck accidents occur when a driver falls asleep at the wheel. That percentage accounts for 750 to
1,500 deaths per year. The board that supervised the study looked mostly upon accidents in which it
appeared that the drivers who have fallen asleep. These accidents were classified as a sleeping driver,
because they exemplified the characteristics of a sleeping driver. For example: a truck slowly running off
the road at a small angle would classify as a sleeping driver accident. Interviews with drivers that survive
these accidents were also examined. Another Study was performed by the American Trucking Association.
The major problem found in their study was that all people are different and that all people were being
treated like they were the same (2). In what way!
the author is saying “all people are different” is unclear. The author could be talking about physical or
mental characteristics but he does not state which one. The point is a valid one. Statistics are used very
nicely to prove the point that there is a need for change.
The study showed a need for change. In order to solve the problem of drivers falling asleep at the wheel,
the Trucking Association asks for the education of drivers and an additional 28, 000 semi-trailer parking
spaces at rest areas. The safety board calls for a longer rest period. They argue that just because a driver
gets eight hours off, it doesn’t mean that the driver can get eight hours of sleep. In fact the safety board
states that because of a need to meet other human necessities a driver has no chance to get eight hours of
sleep (3). Why the safety board is asking for these new additions is not explained. “Other human
necessities” is a very broad category and no detail is given to define this category.
No matter what rules are changed according to the study, there will still be drivers that fall asleep behind
the wheel. Personal matters are not taken into account. If a driver is having problems at home, he or she
may lose sleep over that. The overall solution is to give drivers a reason to sleep. The sense of urgency to
get from one place to another needs to be abolished. As long as the drivers are on a deadline, more
accidents will happen when drivers fall asleep behind the wheel.