According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), driver fatigue is a leading factor in the nearly 4,000 fatal large truck crashes each year. When commercial truck drivers become fatigued from excessive, consecutive work hours, they greatly increase the risk of accidents that result in death or serious injuries. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Association stated that driver fatigue is a contributing factor in as many as 30-40 percent of all heavy truck crashes.
Longer Hours Required by Companies
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issues regulations governing commercial drivers. Currently, FMCSA requires that commercial drivers operate a truck or bus no more than 11 consecutive hours before resting for minimum of 10 hours, and that they take a 30-minute rest break within the first 8 hours of their shift. This is significant, since the risk of a crash effectively doubles from the eighth to the tenth hour of driving, and doubles again from the tenth to the eleventh hour as well.
Additionally, truck drivers are explicitly exempted from the Fair Labor Standards Act, which means that many of the protections designed to protect employees from unfair labor practices do not apply to them, including being paid for overtime. Trucking is also a highly competitive industry, especially with the rising consumer demand for overnight shipments and for fresh produce brought from the one coast to the other, and shippers feel the pressure both to move products quickly and to maintain low costs. Many companies operate on thin margins, and they often put excess pressure on employees to stay on the road longer than what is safe before fatigue sets in.
New Rule to Stop Truck Driver Fatigue
The FMCSA issued a new rule to stop fatigued driving by updating the use of the 34-hour rest period that is required, known as the “restart.” The rule restricts drivers to using the restart once every seven days, and requires drivers to include at least two periods of rest between 1:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. in order to allow them to take a significant rest and catch up on sleep before working another long week. Effectively, the rule reduces the maximum number of hours a driver could work in a week from 82 hours to 70. According to the DOT, drivers that work long hours, without sufficient recovery time, have slower reaction times and have a reduced ability to assess situations quickly. Additionally, truck drivers often can’t assess their own fatigue levels accurately and fail to notice their degraded performance.
However, Congress has suspended the enforcement of the requirements for use of the 34-hour restart. Therefore, some drivers in the trucking industry will again be operating on average as many as 82 hours per week.
Motor carrier companies are responsible for providing drivers with tools necessary to perform well, which includes prohibiting fatigued driving. If a company fails to provide drivers with adequate information, training, and supervision to ensure that drivers do not drive while they are fatigued, it may be liable for accidents that subsequently occur. Truck crashes cause serious and, as noted above, many fatalities each year. If you or a loved one has been injured in a crash with a large truck, contact the truck accident attorneys of Pierce, Herns, Sloan & Wilson, LLC today for a free initial consultation.