Driver Fatigue

One of the most preventable causes of trucking accidents is driver fatigue. Today, many companies operate 24-hours a day, 7 days a week, and the pressure they place on drivers to deliver goods quickly and on time is immense. The bottom line is, too many truckers and commercial vehicle drivers are driving on little sleep, and it causes accidents every day. Morrow & Sheppard know the right questions to ask to get the answers you need regarding driver fatigue.

Driver fatigue is very serious and was an associated factor in 13% of trucking accidents, according to a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study conducted over several years.

An accident in which there is evidence of no braking or little braking (such as the absence of skid markings), or which involves a vehicle running straight off the road at a turn during clear visibility conditions clearly raises driver fatigue issues. Fatigue can also be less obvious, and will not always involve a driver falling completely asleep. Moderate fatigue where someone is concentrating less than they should, or when their reflexes become slowed, can also cause accidents.

There are several reasons why driver fatigue is a recurring issue in 18-wheeler truck and commercial vehicle accident cases, including:

  • Companies often push truck and commercial vehicle drivers to work harder and to avoid sleep. Commercial vehicle driving is a highly competitive industry, and most drivers work more than 60 hours a week (and often 100 hours).
  • Typically, truck drivers do not qualify for overtime pay for working more than 40 hours. The most common method of payment for drivers is “by the mile.” Thus, drivers have a financial incentive to keep driving longer distances even though they need to rest.
  • The nature of truck driving involves irregular days in which one might be expected to work all night to deliver something in the morning. Irregular sleep patterns affect the drivers’ ability to properly rest.
  • A driver’s ability to get the job done on time depends on others, such as whether the cargo is ready to load when the truck arrives, the time it takes to load the cargo, traffic on the road, etc. A truck driver is often attempting to rush to make up time lost throughout the process.
  • While driving long hours on the road, drivers are away from their families.

In short, truck driving is a difficult industry, and there is a lot of driver turnover, with drivers frequently changing jobs and employers. Over time, the industry has seen highly qualified drivers leave the industry, and less qualified drivers come into it. This has resulted in more accidents.

In general, truckers transporting cargo can only be “on-duty” for 14 hours after they have been “off-duty” for 10 hours. During the 14-hour period, the driver can only drive for 11 total hours. The remaining three hours cannot be spent driving, and should be used to take meal breaks or naps.

Moreover, drivers can only drive if 8 hours or less have passed since their last “off-duty” period of at least 30 minutes. [49 C.F.R. 395.3 (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations).] In other words, drivers must take 30 minute breaks at least every 8 hours. Further, if the motor carrier operates vehicles 7 days a week, then its drivers generally cannot drive more than 70 hours in any 8 consecutive day period. If the motor carrier does not operate trucks every week, drivers cannot drive more than 60 hours during any consecutive 7-day period. Given the economics of the trucking industry, there is often pressure on drivers to drive longer hours than the law allows.

To comply with driving time restrictions, truck drivers must maintain a driver’s log that tracks the number of hours and when they have driven. The log must be maintained truthfully and accurately. FMCSR regulates the amount of time a truck driver can spend driving on a daily and weekly basis. While working, drivers must keep their logs for the previous 7 days in their possession and available for inspection. The driver’s employer must keep all driver logs for its drivers for a period of at least 6 months. [49 C.F.R. 395.8 (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations).] Often times, after an accident, the driver’s log will not match the data from the electronic data recorder in the truck, indicating that the driver has not been truthful in maintaining his driver log. This happens all too often because drivers are pressured to stay on the road longer than they should.

It is the driver’s responsibility to only accept jobs / deliveries that they can perform safely, taking into consideration their own schedules, departure times, required rest times, and anticipated traffic situations. Drivers often fail to adequately plan. As a result, they break the rules, sometimes knowingly, creating a very dangerous situation for other drivers on the road. For example, drivers may fail to take required breaks because they feel they are “close enough” to their destination. Or, a driver may misreport when he started driving that day in order to preserve his on-duty hours to ensure he makes his delivery on time. Or, a driver may not take long enough of a break in the sleeper cabin of his truck to adequately qualify as off-duty time, feeling pressure to get back on the road. Oftentimes, the motor carriers these drivers work for have lax enforcement of the rules, and the drivers feel economic pressure from their supervisors to complete deliveries quickly. It is the motor carriers’ responsibility to ensure its drivers are following the rules.

The Houston truck accident attorneys at Morrow & Sheppard can help you evaluate whether driver fatigue was a factor in your 18-wheeler truck or commercial vehicle accident. They have the skills and experience to help you and your family secure the compensation you deserve.

Contact us now for a free, confidential consultation to discuss your options. Your consultation will be kept secret, and it does not obligate you to hire our law firm or file a claim.

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