Truck Driver Fatigue is a Real Danger

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration estimates that up to 28% of truck drivers suffer from sleep apnea. Drowsy driving is a considerable problem that the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration estimates causes up to 100,000 vehicular accidents every year.

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Truck Driver Fatigue

Each year, large vehicle crashes account for nearly 4,000 deaths, and approximately 40,000 injuries. If a fatality occurs when a semi-truck is involved with a passenger vehicle, 98% of the time it is the occupants of the passenger vehicle who don’t walk away from the accident. It is estimated that between 35 to 40% of all truck related accidents are caused by truck driver fatigue.

Fatigue at a Glance

In 2006, a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration survey found that 65% of truck drivers reported repeatedly feeling fatigued while driving that year. Additionally, 50% reported that they had fallen asleep while driving their trucks. Interestingly, only 7% of drivers reported falling asleep at the wheel as the crucial factor causing any accidents they were involved in. This is a significant finding as the data shows a considerable disconnect between the reality of truck driver fatigue, and the perceived risk. In fact, many drivers do not see fatigued driving as a genuine risk that is putting the other drivers in serious danger.

Lack of Sleep Comparable to High BAC Level

Sleep loss has a negative impact on a driver’s ability to focus and maintain control of their vehicle. Sleeping for 5 or fewer hours per night for 2 or more consecutive nights has the same effect on driving coherency as having a BAC of .10% or greater. As this sleep debt builds up, the driver is more likely to be involved in a fatigue related accident.

This occurs because the lack of sleep, and the disruption t the circadian rhythm negatively impact a drivers ability to remain alert. The longer the disruption occurs, the greater the impact on the driver’s hormone levels. This imbalance is not repaired within a single sleep cycle and indeed, may take up to 3 nights to fully stabilize. A fatigued driver can suffer from loss of concentration, diminished reasoning capacity, hallucinations, and even pass out while behind the wheel.

Risk Increases the Longer a Driver Operates Their Vehicle

Chicago truck accident lawyers, law enforcement, and regulators know that the more hours a driver operates their semi-truck, the greater the risk that they will be involved in an accident. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the risk becomes significantly greater after a driver has been behind the wheel for about nine hours. The following are the approximate accident rates that occur following an 8-hour break:

  • 1% occur at 1 hour past the 8-hour break.
  • 2% occur at the 2,3, and 4 hour marks.
  • 2.5% occur at 5 hours.
  • 2% occur at 6 hours.
  • 2.5% occur at 7 hours.
  • 3% occur at 8 hours.
  • 3.25% occur at 9 hours.
  • 4% occur at 10 hours.
  • 9.5% occur at 11 hours.
  • 9% occur at 12 hours.

…and a whopping 25% occur at 17 hours following the last 8-hour break a driver takes.

Factors Causing Driver Fatigue

There are many factors that cause driver fatigue. These include the following:

  • Pay by the mile contracts. Many companies continue to pay drivers by the mile. Thus, they have an incentive for pushing the regulations to their limit in order to maximize their earnings.
  • Delivery deadlines. In order for truck driving companies to compete with one another, they set tight delivery deadlines.
  • Drivers stay silent. For fear of losing their jobs, or being passed over for work opportunities, drivers do not complain or report their employers.

Regulations Aim to Reduce Fatigued Driving Rates

The federal government is continually amending truck driving regulations to reduce the rates of fatigued driving accidents. In 2013, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration reduced the total number of hours a driver may operate their vehicle from 82 to 70. When this limit is reached, drivers must take a mandatory 34 hours off. This “time off” must include two periods between the hours of 1 am and 5 am.

Drivers are also required to take a 30-minute rest break within the first 8-hours of their shift. Further, the new rules stipulated that drivers are not allowed to operate their vehicles for more than 11 hours, or be on duty for more than 14-hours on any given day. Companies who violate these rules can be subject to fines of $11,000 per offense. Drivers can face fines of $2,750 per offense. Moreover, these current rules are expected to reduce the financial impact of large vehicle crashes by $280 million per year.

In late 2015, motor carriers, the American Trucking Association, and several legislators supported rolling back these during the present legislative year.