Truck Driver Fatigue: A Growing Risk for Motorists

Drowsy drivers continue to be a significant cause of truck accidents, despite hours of service law.

Today, the trucking business is booming in California and across the nation. According to the American Trucking Associations, it is expected that freight tonnage will climb 23.5 percent over the next 11 years, because of a high demand for goods. Although this growth promises new jobs, it has a downside. With more truckers on the road, there is a higher likelihood of truck accidents.

Truck accidents are currently a major hazard to drivers according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Additionally, the agency recently determined that the worst kind of truck accident-one that results in the death of someone involved-has increased significantly in recent years. The NHTSA reported that between 2008 and 2012, truck accident fatalities increased from 3,211 deaths to more than 3,800 deaths. In California alone, the number of truck-related fatalities has averaged 239 deaths per year during this period, according to the California Highway Patrol.

This increasing problem of fatal truck accidents, particularly ones caused by drowsy drivers, received national press attention earlier this summer, when a limousine van transporting actor and comedian Tracy Morgan was hit by a large commercial truck. Because of the collision, Morgan suffered serious injuries. Additionally, a fellow passenger was killed. According to news reports, the driver of the truck had driven for 23 straight hours before the accident occurred, which is a clear violation of the hours of service regulations set by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). As a result of the accident, the driver is facing a vehicular homicide charge. Additionally, Morgan is suing the trucking company for negligence.

Hours of service regulations largely ignored

Since a large portion of truck accidents are fatigue-related, the FMCSA recently amended their hours of service regulations to address the problem. Under the new rules, which became effective in July 2013, truck drivers are limited to working a maximum of 11 hours behind the wheel per day and 70 hours per week. Once the 70-hour maximum has been reached, each driver must rest for 34 consecutive hours over two nighttime periods between 1-5 a.m., when the body is in most need of rest. Additionally, drivers must take a mandatory 30-minute break within the first eight hours of their shift.

Although the law seems like it takes reasonable steps to reduce driver fatigue, it is not popular within the trucking industry, which has called for the new rules to be repealed. Trucking companies, which make their money by meeting tight deadlines, put pressure on their drivers to do whatever is necessary to ensure that the bottom line is not impacted. Because of this pressure, many drivers falsify their logbooks, turn to illegal drugs to stay awake, and ignore mandatory rest periods to ensure that their cargos are delivered on time. Unfortunately, innocent motorists on the road are put at risk as a result.

An attorney can help

Although the laws are there to protect motorists from drowsy truck drivers, many trucking companies feel that violating them while in pursuit of more profits is worth the risk. Unfortunately, it is not until their bottom lines are impacted after a civil lawsuit that many companies take notice of the folly of their business practices.

If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in an accident with a truck, driver or trucking company negligence may or may not be immediately apparent. An experienced personal injury attorney can ensure that the exact cause of the accident is pinpointed and will work to recover compensation for your financial and emotional losses that you are entitled to by law.

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