I-Team: New rules tracking semi driver’s sleep shows virtually no change in crash numbers

While semi drivers say new rules requiring using an electronic system to track how many hours they sleep makes them feel safer, a News Center 7 I-Team investigation revealed virtually no change in crash numbers since E-logs were mandated nearly three years ago.

“It only appears, and it remains consistent, that trucks are only at fault 50 percent of the time,” Ohio State Highway Patrol Lt. Matt Schmenk told the I-Team. “What that means is that truckers and people that drive passenger cars need to share the roadway.”

Through an open records request, the I-Team’s Gabrielle Enright reviewed OSP semi crash numbers from before and after the U.S. Dept. of Transportation forced the trucking industry to move from a paper to an electronic sleep tracking system in 2017.

The year before the e-log system was put in place, in 2016, 11,152 semi drivers caused 19,949 Ohio crashes. The 2018 and 2019 averages, which are the two years following the law change, show 11,312 drivers causing 19,783 Ohio crashes.

The numbers also showed during the last four years, the biggest violations were improper lane changes and both semis and cars following each other too closely.

Amy Schwausch knows the pain behind the numbers. Her 19-year old son Zach was killed last year when his car and a semi collided on I-75 near Troy.

“It’s very hard,” Schwausch said. “We’re not really sure what had happened but he ended up underneath a semi.”

Jennifer Deiner was 11 in 1994 when her father, who was a semi driver, died in a crash on the way home from Indiana.

“He was somebody who was out in a semi for days and hours and on his way home in his pick-up truck he fell asleep at the wheel and actually struck a semi,” Deiner said.

The rules mean while semi drivers can work up to 14 hours every day, they must rest every 10 hours. In Sept. the federal law was modified, allowing drivers to split up the 10 hour resting period.

“It’s like you and I when we go on vacation. We can’t drive 11 hours safely. If you can split that up and stop in between and take a little break. That’s better for us,” Home Run Inc. Trucking Co. vice president of safety Tom Milby told the I-Team.

Even if it is not reflected in current data, Milby thinks E-logs are making Ohio roads safer by forcing semi drivers to get more sleep.

“I think the drivers are getting their rest,” Milby said. “Prior to E-log drivers weren’t getting but a four or five hour break. And that’s not safe.”

From her father’s grave, Deiner was emotional.

“I think if my dad would have had something like that, I think he would have been here today,”

Deiner added.

In Ohio, people in cars can talk on their cellphones while driving. Those driving semis can also use their cellphone, but federal law requires they be hands free or face fines. Texting while driving is illegal for every driver.

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