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Portland bus operators are working as many as 22 hours in a 24-hour time period, according to an Oregon newspaper investigation. Public records from the transit agency TriMet showed a shockingly high number of complaints about bus drivers falling asleep behind the wheel.

The Oregonian investigation found multiple records of bus drivers regularly picking up additional routes, making their driving shifts last 16, 18, even 22 hours at a time.

Research shows that sleep-deprived drivers take three times as long to react to traffic hazards. For comparison, that is actually longer than it takes a drunk driver to react. 2 hours of rest in 24 hours is insufficient to operate any vehicle, let alone a large bus.

The current “hours of service” rule allows for bus operators to be on duty for 17 hours in one service day. A single service day begins at 3 am, and ends at 1 am. So bus drivers have been working a regularly-scheduled 12-hour day, ending at 2 am – then starting again with the new service day at 4 a.m. This practice doesn't violate the current TriMet policy.

For comparison, note that truck drivers can drive 11 out of 14 hours, and then have 10 hours off. But TriMet is not an interstate agency: the federal hours-of-service rules for truck drivers or commercial drivers don't apply to public transit bus drivers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has estimated that 15% to 33% of fatal car crashes could involve drowsy drivers. It’s clear that TriMet needs to reform their hours-of-service rules for bus drivers – before anyone else gets hurt.

See the full investigation by The Oregonian.

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