According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), 13 percent of large truck crashes are caused by driver fatigue. As a result of truck driver fatigue, this preventable factor has led to the death of more than 4,000 people each year for the last decade. Seventy-two percent of those are occupants of cars; only 17 percent are truck drivers, and the remaining 11 percent are pedestrians.
Inadequate sleep and long work hours are common among truck drivers. Those drivers getting very few hours of sleep often suffer from sleep inertia, a medical condition that strikes in the first hour after waking and can hinder short-term memory, cognition, reaction time, and the ability to resist falling back asleep. This can lead to drowsy drivers failing to recognize safety-critical situations and impair their responses to potential hazards.
Studies have shown that many “alertness tricks” that truck drivers use are little more than old wives’ tales with little or no real scientifically observable effect. Opening a window provides only a momentary increase in alertness, for example. Caffeine gives drowsy drivers a dangerous false sense of security, as frequent users build up a tolerance to it and can exhibit significant “downs” as it wears off. Turning up the radio and smoking have no statistical effect on sustained alertness at all. On the other hand, lifestyle habits such as getting regular, adequate sleep, maintaining a healthy diet (since obesity and sleep apnea are strongly linked), and employing short naps have been proven to have a much more powerful effect to help with truck driver fatigue while working long hours on the road.
What the Law Requires from Truck Drivers to Ensure Alertness
What is being done to combat drowsy truck driving? The problem is that there is no objective measure available that can assess a driver’s level of alertness, like a breathalyzer can scientifically measure blood alcohol levels. Therefore, the FMCSA has Hours of Service regulations to ensure that drivers are at least provided with adequate opportunities for sleep. The Hours of Service regulations require:
- That drivers drive a maximum of 11 hours after being off-duty for 10 consecutive hours
- That drivers may not drive at all beyond the 14th hour after going on duty
- That drivers must take a rest break of at least 30 minutes after 8 hours of driving
- That drivers using a sleeper berth must take at least 8 consecutive hours in the berth plus a separate 2 consecutive hours either in the sleeper berth, off duty, or a combination of the two
The FMCSA does acknowledge, however, that the Hours of Service regulations aimed at reducing fatigue are highly controversial and widely violated. Limits on the number of consecutive driving days a driver can have in a week have been enacted and then rescinded in Congress in recent years. Following a disastrous 2016 train crash in Hoboken, NJ caused by a driver with sleep apnea, the Obama administration proposed sleep apnea test for all truck and train drivers; this measure, however, was withdrawn by the current administration.
Many who remember the tragic Hoboken train crash may also remember the 2014 truck-limousine crash that critically injured comedian Tracy Morgan, star of 30 Rock and Saturday Night Live. It was revealed that the truck driver in that crash had not slept in 24 hours. For a time, accidents like these bring the issue of truck driver fatigue to the fore of the national consciousness, even if little has been done legislatively to prevent it. In the meanwhile, trucking companies have an economic motivation to attempt to reduce the pain and suffering that truck accidents cause. A fatal accident can cost a trucking company more than $7 million in compensation, lost revenues due to failing reputation, and cargo costs.
If you or a loved one has been hurt in a truck accident, you should call a personal injury attorney to discuss the possibility of compensation. If you initiate a lawsuit and are concerned about paying the bills as you wage your legal battle, your next call should be to USClaims.
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