How Truck Driver Fatigue and FMCSA Regulations Intersect With Reality

December 15, 2019 Truck Accident Blog

Realities of the Road: Truck Driver Fatigue and Federal Regulations Clash

The Large Truck Crash Causation Study offers unprecedented details about the events surrounding truck crashes. According to the study, 13% of truckers involved in accidents said they experienced truck driver fatigue before the collisions occurred. The causation study is significant because it highlights the fact that there is a dangerous gap between the federal regulations and actual outcomes in the normal course of transporting cargo.

Federal Regulations and Truck Driver Fatigue

Federal regulations are aimed at protecting the public from sharing the road with fatigued commercial truck drivers. However, the LTCCS shows that truck driver fatigue is still a pervasive problem. Drivers have work schedules that are tightly defined by industry demands. Therefore, fatigue is usually caused by a variety of conditions that are beyond the driver’s ability to control.

For example, the hours-of-service rules impose limits on the number of hours that can be driven for specific periods of time. However, these rules don’t reflect many of the actual working conditions facing drivers. Drivers who are unable to use their best judgment to address fatigue are also blamed for their condition. Experienced truck accident lawyers understand how to parse the situation that caused the fatigue in the first place.

Understanding Truck Driver Fatigue

Blaming drivers for being fatigued is a common practice. However, when there is any lawsuit being litigated, it is necessary to draw attention to the cause of the driver fatigue. This is a major part of establishing liability. Any good truck lawyer should be thoroughly versed in the issues facing commercial truck drivers who are trying their best to drive safely and follow the regulations. It is unfortunate that many of the trucking companies, shippers and carriers place pressures that create a situation that makes it virtually impossible to drive without becoming dangerously fatigued at some point in time.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration conducted a comprehensive study on the subject of driver fatigue. It showed that fatigue was more related to the time of day than the type of conditions faced by the driver. To some analysts, this demonstrates the low level of interest in reducing driver fatigue by those in charge of making route decisions.

For example, shippers and receivers are often wasteful of the time used to unload and reload the truck. Because of these long waiting periods, a driver is often forced to drive at night to make the delivery on time in the morning. Driving at night is more dangerous because the human body is the least alert when operating between midnight and 6 a.m.

High-Risk Conditions

Drivers facing fatigue might have little to no control over the working conditions that they face. When under pressure to perform at a moment’s notice, stress levels can be high. It’s no wonder that drivers have the highest rates of accidents during the first hour of going on-duty. This happens because the human body takes time to warm up and be fully ready to go to work.

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However, the trucking industry puts enormous pressure on drivers to be fully functioning and operating their equipment first thing in the morning. Right after waking up, drivers are likely to be affected by a kind of sleep inertia, and this increases the risk of being involved in a collision.

The driver who is unable to sleep regular hours will also be affected by the changes in the natural circadian rhythm, which regulates the waking and sleeping cycles. Both sleep inertia and changes in the sleep-and-wake cycle can impair the driver’s normal reflexes. This includes the amount of time it takes to respond to an event taking place that requires a quick response. The longer the reaction time, the more likely a truck accident is to occur. Fatigue also affects cognitive abilities, and this includes the ability to recall instructions and maintain the normal performance expected on the job.

Signs of Truck Driver Fatigue

Fatigued drivers can pose a serious hazard to the general public. Furthermore, this can affect the transport company’s liability if an incident occurs. There are many signs that a truck driver is becoming dangerously fatigued. One example is drifting across lanes, which is dangerous because there are many other vehicles on the road that might be unaware of what’s happening with the truck. As soon as the truck drifts into another lane, it increases the chance of a collision. This is especially problematic when there are motorcycles on the road, which can be difficult to see even in the truck’s rearview mirror.

The need to get adequate rest should be respected. Driving fatigued is a serious problem, and it should be understood adequately by all truck accident lawyers who are taking personal injury cases. According to some studies, a driver who is awake for 18 hours at a time is working under the same mental conditions as a person who has a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08%. This is the same BAC threshold used to determine drunk driving.

Drivers need to be aware of the signs of fatigue. As previously mentioned, drivers are often held liable for operating a commercial truck while drowsy. Drivers who get into a collision because of fatigued driving may face criminal penalties if there are fatalities involved.

Anti-Fatigue Tips for Truck Drivers

Awareness can help drivers recognize the signs of dangerous fatigue. Drivers are often operating under intense pressures, and this boosts the amount of adrenaline in their system. Once the activity stops, the driver might be unable to unwind and get to sleep right away. Drivers who start to listen to relaxing music designed to calm the mind report that it is easier to get to sleep than those who simply go to bed right away. Learning how to unwind is extremely important, so drivers should consider learning any meditation techniques that help them improve the quality of their sleep.

Diet can also play a role in reducing truck driver fatigue. Eliminating sugary drinks and foods from the diet is an excellent first step. Introducing healthy foods into the diet is critical in an industry that still promotes excessive levels of fast food. A bad diet depletes the immune system and contributes to fatigue. Excessively drinking energy drinks and coffee and using other anti-fatigue gimmicks are insufficient to really deal with the dangers of drowsiness.

Many drivers risk retaliation from their employers if they insist on getting adequate rest, but they also risk endangering the public if they continue to drive while fatigued. Some industry-wide changes might be possible if there is enough awareness about the causes of driver fatigue and the role it plays in vehicle collisions.

Our Law Firm

If you or anyone you know is suffering after being in a crash with a commercial truck, there is a possibility that truck driver fatigue played a role. At RAM Law, we have experience investigating truck accidents and helping injured victims. Our truck accident lawyers could represent your case and help get you the compensation necessary to cover your damages. Contact our firm today for an initial consultation. You can reach our New Brunswick office at (732) 247-3600 and our Somerville office at (908) 448-2560.

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