BOSTON (CBS) – Snowplow operators work around the clock to keep the streets clear so we can get to work. But the I-Team found the industry has little to no regulation in Massachusetts surrounding driver fatigue.
Plow drivers share stories of plowing for days at a time. Many say they have no choice, their clients as well as cities and towns put pressure on to keep going.
Charlie Macnamara of Stoughton owns four plows. He and his staff have done work for municipalities, the state and private businesses.
“After two days you get the shakes and then after that you can keep going,” he says. Macnamara says he won’t stop until the job is done.
But how long is too long? Clear Roads is a national transportation group made up of Department of Transportation officials from around the country. The group surveyed more than 1000 plow drivers. Nearly half said they’d fallen asleep at the wheel while plowing.
Federal law mandates rest time for commercial drivers of semi-trucks and other large vehicles. Snowplows are exempt, leaving regulation up to states.
“If you’re working on 36 hours of being wide awake how safe are you going to be out there?” asks Beth Hill.
Her step-daughter Elizabeth Hill was killed in February. She was struck by a snowplow in Fitchburg while walking home from work. Driver fatigue is being investigated as a contributing factor.
Hill says something needs to change to keep the roads safer. At least three people were killed in Massachusetts last winter.
“This is their season and I get it. But you never realize how much danger you’re putting everyone else in by not getting enough sleep,” Hill said.
On PlowSite.com, a website where snow removal professionals chat, the stories illustrate the problem.
Drivers talk of falling asleep and often hallucinating behind the wheel. One driver who says he is from Boston writes that after three days of plowing, he “saw a herd of buffalo cross the street” in the city.
Another driver adds that after “77 hours non-stop, no break….got very delusional and started seeing things.”
And while some states like Connecticut now require eight hours of rest between shifts, Massachusetts has virtually no regulation on how long someone can be behind the wheel. They rely mainly on private contractors. That means it’s up to a company to put their own regulations on drivers.
According to the group Clear Roads, at least 14 states have some sort of limit on driving hours. That includes snowy states like Michigan and Minnesota.
Macnamara says he doesn’t put limits on his drivers, but he admits it might be helpful for the state to enforce rules.
Weeks away from another winter, the Hill family dreads the sight of snowplows on their street and the memories it will conjure.
They hope when the pressure’s on to plow, everyone’s safety is important.
“The companies are not going to do it. They’re out for making money. Somebody has to enforce it,” Hill says.