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Connecting Driver Fatigue & Truck Accidents: What are the Limits?

Truck accidents can easily be fatal for occupants of passenger vehicles. The enormous vehicle size and weight of commercial trucks can crush or completely obliterate smaller cars. In 2015, 296 people died in large truck accidents in California.

One of major causes of truck accidents is truck driver fatigue. Long hours on the road, no passengers, an abnormal sleep schedule, and sleep apnea can all contribute to making truckers too drowsy to drive safely. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) enacted hours of service (HOS) rules to help prevent this type of accident, but they still occur around the country.

Why Do Truckers Drive Drowsy?

Researchers believe that statistics on drowsy driving are largely underrepresented since it’s difficult to attribute sleep as the cause of fatal accidents. That being said, an FMCSA crash study used crash scene data, interviews with drivers and witnesses, and inspections of the drivers’ logbooks to gauge the number of fatigue-related accidents. The study found driver error caused 87% of the truck accidents, and driver fatigue caused 13% (18,000 truck accidents).

Truck drivers are at a high risk of fatigue due to several different job-related factors. Drivers who must do long-haul drivers overnight may have trouble getting adequate sleep during the day since they are not used to sleeping these hours. In addition, a study by the University of Pennsylvania found 28% of commercial truck drivers have sleep apnea. This could cause sleep deprivation and the driver trying to stay awake with caffeine, energy drinks, or even stimulant drugs. In turn, these alternatives to real sleep can lead to an energy crash and falling asleep behind the wheel.

In some cases, truck drivers may feel pressure from employers to make delivery deadlines on time. Some employers may offer bonuses for drivers who beat their deadline or penalize drivers who don’t. Work pressures can encourage drivers to illegally ignore hours of service regulations, and drive when they haven’t gotten enough sleep. Long hours on the road, nighttime driving, irregular hours, tight scheduling, monotonous driving, and a hot and stuffy cabin can all contribute to truck driver drowsiness.

Are there limits on the amount of time a Commercial Truck Driver Can Spend on the Road?

Acknowledging the significant risk fatigue poses to truck drivers, the FMCSA enacted hours of service rules in Part 395 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. These rules state that anyone operating a commercial motor vehicle must obey time limits on how long they are allowed to drive. There are three maximum hours of service limits all drivers must follow:

  1. Drivers have a period of 14 consecutive hours in which they can drive up to 11 hours, only after being off duty for 10 or more consecutive hours have passed. Even if drivers take a lunch break or nap in this period, they can only drive during these 14 hours. The 14-hour window begins at the start of any kind of work.
  2. If more than eight consecutive hours have passed since the driver’s last off-duty period of at least 30 minutes, the driver has a mandatory off-duty period of at least 30 minutes before driving. For example, a driver could drive for eight hours, take a 30-minute break, and then drive for another three hours for a total of 11 hours.
  3. 60/70-hour duty limit. No driver can be on duty for longer than 60 hours during seven consecutive days, or 70 hours in eight consecutive days. Once drivers reach the “weekly” limit, they cannot drive again until enough off-duty hours have passed.

Following the FMCSA rules can help truck drivers control their sleep schedules and get enough rest to drive without the risk of falling asleep. Failure to obey the rules, resulting in a fatigue-related crash, is negligence.

If you were injured in an accident with a commercial truck, contact the experienced San Bernardino truck accident attorneys at Estey & Bomberger, LLP about your case today! 909-882-2016

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