NTSB Rules Fatigued Driver as Cause of Fatal Truck Crash

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We frequently discuss the dangerous presented by the commercial trucking industry on this blog. One of the highway safety risks we frequently identify is that of fatigued commercial drivers who are pushed far beyond the limits of human endurance. In some cases, the company may push the driver to travel further and for longer durations than is safe. In other circumstances, economic and financial concerns may cause a driver to overestimate his or her ability to drive while tired or exhausted.  Unfortunately for drivers, nearby motorists and other bystanders, it is well-known that when a person becomes particularly fatigued the impulse to sleep can become irresistible. In many cases, the individual will even fail to realize that he or she is drifting off to sleep. However, even before the person may fall asleep behind the wheel, fatigue can impair decision-making and increase reaction time.

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The Trucking Accident Was Caused By a Sleeping Driver and a Disabled Truck

The scenario under which the truck accident occurred was created when a disabled semi-trailer pulled to the side of the road in January of 2014. An employee for the toll road pulled his emergency assistance truck behind the trailer. Soon, an Illinois State Trooper also pulled behind to accompany while they all waited for a heavy duty tow-truck to arrive. Both the officer and the assistance truck driver activated their emergency lights and several flares were set up around the truck.

Despite these precautions, the driver of a second semi-trailer traveling down the road failed to see any of the stopped vehicles and hit them. All three vehicles burst into flames. The driver of the help truck was killed and the trooper was critically injured and placed into an induced coma. The driver would later be convicted on a single felony count of operating a motor vehicle while fatigued and two failure to comply with hours-of-service regulations felonies among other offenses.

Driver Admits He Was Falling Asleep Behind the Wheel

The NTSB concluded that the 2014 accident on an Illinois tollway near Naperville occurred because the driver was extremely fatigued and admitted that he was falling asleep at the wheel. According to a statement issued by the NTSB chairman, “The driver of the DND truck did not apply the brakes until one second before the crash.” He further elaborated that the driver was traveling on a mere 4.5 hours of sleep over the course of the previous 37 hours.

However, this extremely fatigued driving by the truck operator only scratches the surface of the wrongdoing by the driver and the lack of corrective action by the company. The NSTB also discovered that the driver frequently falsified driving logs to drive for longer periods. The agency reported that 55 of 149 logs during the prior six months were falsified meaning that 37% of logs were inaccurate. Unfortunately, when the agency pulled logs from other drivers for the trucking company they found similar rates of log fraud. While it is not clear, whether the trucking company encouraged this fraud or merely failed to monitor their drivers’ compliance with federal hours-of-service rules. Regardless of the reasons for the monitoring failure, the fact that an entire fleet of exhausted drivers exists is distressing for all who drive on highways.

Both the Driver and the Trucking Company Were Deemed High Risk by FMCSA but Regulator Failed to Take Action

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration had cited the company and the driver as “high risk.” However, despite the agency having data showing the company’s safety short-comings, no enforcement action was taken and the vehicles remained on the roads. Even after the accident, the trucking company remained in operation. FMSCA did not order the company to halt operations until two months after the wreck when the company was deemed an “imminent hazard.” Even then, the company was able to successfully appeal the order. The company only stopped operations after its insurance carrier pulled coverage. Despite all this, a representative from NTSB noted, “They still have an active DOT number.” Thus, the only thing holding this trucking company back from taking to the nation’s highways again is insufficient funds to pay for insurance coverage.

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Furthermore, the truck that was hit by the dozing driver also had a number of safety compliance issues showing that problems in the industry are widespread. The other company had also been deemed a “high-risk carrier.” Additionally, investigators who inspected the stalled truck ruled that problems with the vehicle should have precluded it from being on the roads.

Contact a Philadelphia Personal Injury Attorney that Can Fight for You

If you or a loved one have suffered a catastrophic injury due to a fatigued truck or tractor-trailer driver, the personal injury lawyers of The Reiff Law Firm can fight for you. For decades we have fought for people injured due to the negligence of others so that they can obtain the medical care and support they need. To schedule a free and confidential consultation call us at (215) 246-9000 or contact us online.

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