Truck Driver Fatigue and Tractor-Trailer Accidents
Commercial drivers play a very important role in America’s infrastructure. Almost every product you use in your home, the materials used to build our business, and even the food we eat must be transported from its place of origin to the stores we know and enjoy. That being said, truck drivers are responsible for making sure that all of these items get to their final destination. While there have been numerous state, local, and federal laws that have attempted to address truck driver fatigue, it is a well-known fact that truck drivers are often overworked and under-rested which can lead to accidents on the road.
How does Fatigue Cause Accidents?
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that drowsy driving was responsible for 72,000 crashes, 44,000 injuries, and 800 deaths in 2013. Driving while you are tired and fatigued is a major problem for truck drivers and other commercial vehicle drivers. In an attempt to make delivery deadlines and to earn more money drivers will often forego sleep. This can be disastrous to those who are on the road. A fatigued driver is not as able to pay attention to the road, they experience a slowed reaction time, which can make it more difficult to brake or steer suddenly. If a driver does not get enough sleep they are not as able to make good rational decisions.
Sleep deprivation affects a driver’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle by increasing reaction time, degrading attention and vigilance, increasing distractibility and confusion, decreasing motivation, and increasing the probability of driving performance errors. Research has shown that fatigue can be as dangerous as other road safety issues, such as drunk driving. However, unlike driving while intoxicated which is a heavily addressed issue, there have only recently been laws enacted that have been designed to address driver fatigue.
Laws affecting Drivers
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) publishes a set of rules that limit the maximum amount of time truck drivers can work and drive before taking a required break. The Hours of Service (HOS) rules identify a truck drivers’ time as falling into one of four categories:
- Off Duty – Time when a truck driver is free from any work-related responsibility.
- Sleeper Berth – Time spent physically in the sleeping compartment of a commercial truck for the purpose of obtaining sleep and rest,
- Driving – All time spent at the driving controls of a commercial motor vehicle in operation
- On Duty – Not Driving – All time from the time a driver begins to work or is required to be in readiness to work until the time the driver is relieved from work and all responsibility for performing work.
- “Driving” and “On Duty – Not Driving” time is combined to determine the total hours a truck driver can work.
Truck drivers must record, or “log”, their time, activity, and location in a logbook
In December of 2011, the FMCSA issued a new rule to stop fatigued driving by making changes to the “hours of service” rules for truck drivers. The rule was complicated, but it basically boiled down to two updated requirements. One is that drivers take a 30-minute rest break within the first 8 hours of their shift so they can stay alert on the road. The other updated the use of the 34-hour rest period, known as the “restart”. In the interest of safety, the 2011 rule restricted drivers to using the restart only once every seven days and it required that the restart period includes at least two periods of rest between 1:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. Basically, it required that drivers have the opportunity to take a very real rest and catch up on sleep before working another very long week. The net effect of these changes was to reduce the average maximum week a driver could work from 82 hours to 70 hours.
- 14-hour duty limit. Refers to a daily limit, meaning truckers may not exceed a 14-hour shift. Additionally, drivers must have 10-hour breaks between 14-hour maximum shifts.
- 11-hour driving limit. Refers to the driving limit within the 14-hour duty limit. Drivers may only drive for 11 consecutive hours, with 10-hour breaks in between.
- 60/70-hour duty limit. Refers to a roughly weekly limit. The ultimate number slides between 60 and 70 because the “weekly” limit is actually based on a 7- or 8-day period, referred to as “rolling” or “floating.”
If you have been injured because a Truck Driver Fell Asleep at the Wheel Call a Truck Accident Lawyer
If after everything is said and done you find that a truck driver was violating any of the laws regarding rest, then you may be entitled to receive some compensation. Damages may include your pain and suffering injuries medical bills damage to the car and other expenses. Contact the aggressive and strategic truck accident lawyers from Reiff Law Firm’s Truck Accident Team today by calling (215) 246-9000 today. We offer free and confidential consultations.