In late February, a truck driver reportedly fell asleep behind the wheel as he was driving on the highway. His truck drifted onto the shoulder and struck numerous trees and other objects before it finally came to a stop.
The 65-year-old driver did not wake up until the truck was already in the midst of traveling off the roadway, so there was no time for him to avoid the crash. Unlike many other similar stories, this one did not end in any injuries or fatalities—but not everyone is so lucky.
Truck driver fatigue is a huge problem in the United States right now, and it does not seem like we’re seeing any significant improvements despite trucker’s hours of service rules being revised in June of 2020. Up until that point, truckers were able to drive as much as 82 hours within eight consecutive days.
As more and more reports of truck driver fatigue and resulting truck crashes came out, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration made a ruling to lower hours of service limits. Now, there is a 60/70 rule, meaning that truckers cannot drive for more than 60 hours within seven consecutive days or 70 hours within eight consecutive days. In addition, they must rest for at least 34 consecutive hours once that limit has been reached. But even with these modifications, why are we still seeing so many fatigue-related crashes?
Being tired affects your driving more than you may realize
Even with such strict driving limits in place, truck drivers are still more likely to be exhausted while on the clock. They do not have a typical job with regular working hours; their working hours are irregular and may vary based on their delivery deadlines. This means that they could be working during the day on Monday and then through the night on Wednesday. Having such an irregular work schedule also means having an irregular sleeping schedule.
Just because the new 60/70 rule forces them to take a rest period, it does not mean that they are actually sleeping—their body may not allow them to easily fall asleep at such odd times. The National Safety Council confirms that those who have rotating shift schedules are particularly vulnerable to fatigue at work because they cannot effectively adjust their natural sleep cycle.
Driving while drowsy is comparable to driving while intoxicated
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 37% of workers get less than the recommended seven hours of sleep per night, and that can affect you in more ways than one. Being fatigued hinders your concentration, reaction time, and your decision-making skills—all of which are crucial to have on point while operating a motor vehicle, and especially a large truck. The damage that two standard-sized cars can do after crashing on the highway is immense. Now, imagine that same crash but one of the cars is a tractor-trailer instead. Trucks like these weigh around 25,000 pounds and can easily crush another car with minimal effort, leaving immense damage and fatalities behind.
It may not seem nearly as dangerous, but studies have actually found that driving while drowsy is just as deadly as driving after consuming alcohol. The National Safety Council (NSC) reports that driving 20 hours or more without sleep is the same as driving with a 0.08% blood-alcohol concentration (BAC).
Some other symptoms of driver fatigue are:
- Nodding off
- Drifting from your lane
- Experiencing tunnel vision
- Slow reaction times or reflexes
- Headaches or dizziness
- Impaired decision making
- Aching muscles
- Reduced alertness
- Forgetting the last few miles driven
- Vision going in and out of focus
Truck drivers’ work conditions are partially to blame
Although the new hours of service rules require a minimum amount of time for truck drivers to rest, the reality is that they are still not getting it. One of the biggest issues truck drivers face is finding an area for them to safely park while they get some sleep.
The New York Times reported a story which interviewed truck drivers who expressed how difficult it has been to find appropriate parking. With a shortage of truck rest stops, truckers are resorting to parking on the side of the highway or in areas where they feel unsafe. Because of this, they are not always getting good quality sleep during their rest period because they are fearful that something may happen to them while they are not alert.
As a result, truck drivers go back on the road while still tired in order to meet their deadline which is incredibly dangerous. Not only do truckers need more appropriate rest stop areas, they need more realistic deadlines in order to make our roads safer to travel on.
Accidents involving trucks can be deadly
Trucks are huge and carry massive weight. If the person behind its wheel is fatigued, they could be at fault for an accident that causes serious damage to other cars and people. In fact, the NSC reported that 107,000 large trucks were involved in a crash in 2020 that caused an injury either to the driver or to someone in another vehicle. Even more concerning, 4,842 trucks were involved in fatal crashes. It’s clear that there is a real issue here, and truck drivers need to have better working conditions in order to limit the amount of crashes caused by fatigue.
Highways and other heavily-trafficked roads are already dangerous enough with so many people traveling them. Forcing drowsy drivers to be behind the wheels of large trucks only makes them worse and creates more opportunities for deadly truck accidents. If you have been involved in a truck accident, it is important to consult with an experienced injury attorney who can help fight for you.
Please contact Paulson & Nace, PLLC through this contact form or by calling our office.