Truck Driver Fatigue
Accidents involving commercial truck drivers, whether interstate or intrastate, account for a significant number of deaths and injuries on the nation’s highways and streets. While, as a general rule, commercial trucks are involved in fewer accidents than passenger cars as a proportion of vehicle miles travelled, they account for a statistically significant number of accidents and fatalities as a percentage of vehicles on the road.
According to statistics compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), commercial trucks account for 10% of vehicle miles travelled and 4% of registered vehicles, but are involved in 8% of crashes that result in fatalities. In real numbers, in 2010, these percentages translated into 3,675 people killed in accidents involving large trucks, and over 80,000 people injured in crashes involving large trucks. And due to the great disparity between the mass of commercial trucks and passenger vehicles, only 14% of the fatalities and 25% of the injuries occurred to the occupants of the large trucks. In Illinois alone, commercial truck crashes bear responsibility, on average, for over 170 deaths every year.
One of the factors that contributes significantly to trucking accidents is driver fatigue. According to a study conducted by the NHTSA, driver fatigue was a primary factor in roughly 13% of all commercial motor vehicle accidents, and probably a contributing factor in a much greater number of accidents, since truck drivers involved in crashes also indicated “inattention” as a causal factor.Commercial Truck Driver Fatigue is a Serious Problem that Results in Lives Lost, and Calls for a Serious Solution
Driver fatigue is critical because of the hours that commercial truck drivers spend on the road. As a general rule, truck drivers are paid by the mile, and delivery schedules put tremendous pressure upon drivers to drive for extended periods in order to meet deadlines, particularly in more recent years as companies promise “overnight” and “two-day” deliveries across the nation—or even internationally. Drivers feel bound—under threat of losing their jobs, even—to push themselves to the limit, failing to obtain the sleep and rest necessary for driving safely. Delivery schedules are, quite literally, killing people.
A study performed by the NHTSA of 80 commercial truck drivers who logged over 200,000 miles concluded that driver alertness and attention was severely impacted by fatigue—and compared the problem of fatigue to driving while intoxicated. In the study, they found that:
- Regardless of how long they had been on the road, fatigue was eight times more likely to impact drivers during the hours of midnight to 6 a.m.;
- Drivers on long runs were likely to sleep for only five hours at a stint, which is at least 2 hours shorter than necessary for optimal alertness;
- Drivers were not very good at assessing their own level of alertness—erring on the side of being overconfident in their ability to drive safely.
Partly as a result of this study, in 2012, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration passed a new regulation regarding interstate commercial truck drivers, which fully goes into effect in June, 2013. The specific aim of this law is to reduce the incidence of fatigue and fatigue-related accidents, as well as to reduce the long-term health problems associated with chronic fatigue that many long-haul truck drivers experience. This new rule sets the maximum number of hours that drivers may work from 82 to 70 through several mechanisms:
- A driver may only start a work shift after 10 consecutive hours off-duty.
- Once a driver starts a shift, he or she may not work longer than 14 consecutive hours.
- A driver may not drive more than 11 hours of the 14 hour shift.
- A driver may not drive at all if it has been more than 8 hours since he had an off-duty or sleeper-berth break of at least 30 minutes.
- If a driver has been on duty for 70 hours in 8 consecutive days, he must take a minimum of 34 consecutive hours of time off-duty, and that off-duty period must include two periods from 1 to 5 a.m. (For example, the motor company cannot schedule the driver’s 34 hour break from 6:00 a.m. until 4: p.m. the following day, since that would include only one period from 1 to 5:00 a.m.).
- Finally, the law provides that motor carriers may not “restart” a driver on a new shift after a 34 hour break within 168 hours (that is, 7 days) of the beginning of the last 34 hour break.
In practical terms, the sum of this rule means that, every seven days, a driver can only work a maximum of five 14 hour days in one week—that is, 70 hours per week.
These rules—and the fines that accompany non-compliance with them—will hopefully reduce the incidence of accidents associated with fatigue that involve commercial truck drivers; however, they only apply to commercial trucks that operate under federal motor carrier standards—that is, interstate truckers, rather than intrastate trucking. Moreover, as these new rules go into effect, it remains to be seen whether commercial trucking companies and their drivers will fully comply, especially since the companies that rely upon truckers are unlikely to modify their delivery schedules despite these new regulations. The attorneys at Abels & Annes, P.C. will do their utmost to enforce the goal of these regulations by representing clients who are injured in accidents caused by truck driver fatigue.Our Chicago Truck Accident Attorneys Can Assist You in Pursuing a Claim Against a Negligent Trucking Company
Being involved in an accident involving a large commercial truck is always frightening—and it can often be a deadly experience. And unfortunately, many of these accidents are caused by truckers who have been pushed to drive when they are too fatigued to do so safely.
The Chicago personal injury attorneys at Abels & Annes, P.C., have extensive experience in helping the victims of truck accidents—or their loved ones— to recover damages for injury or for wrongful death. We have the resources and know-how to pursue compensation from trucking companies and their insurers, even when they may be based out-of-state, and when they are represented by high-powered lawyers and law-firms. We know the stringent laws and regulations that commercial carriers must comply with, and our clients will get the protection and aggressive representation to which they are entitled.
If you have been injured in a truck accident by a driver who was suffering from fatigue, contact the personal injury attorneys at Abels & Annes, P.C., in Chicago, toll-free at (855) LAW-CHICAGO, locally in Chicago at (312) 924-7575, or use our online form. Your consultation is completely free and, if we agree to take your case, we will not charge any fee unless and until damages are recovered on your behalf.