Big rig driver fatigue the cause of 13 percent of accidents

Long haul trucking usually means tired drivers, despite their mandatory rest periods.
Even though the trucking industry is strictly regulated, what actually happens on the road is another story altogether. Although truckers are supposed to take mandatory rest periods, often the pressure of head office demanding faster delivery means rest breaks are skipped. The result? A not so alert trucker who runs the risk of becoming an accident looking for a place to happen.

Consider the case of a Georgia trucker who pled guilty to five counts of involuntary manslaughter. He was barreling down the highway, heading east. Directly in front of him was a line of stopped cars, waiting for another accident scene to be cleared. The man had been on the road too long and was fatigued to the point where he drifted in and out while behind the wheel. The driver had his foot to the pedal doing 70 mph when he slammed into the line of cars. Five died. The trucker may do five years or more in jail.

It was one of those accident scenes that no one ever wants to see again. It also raised a contentious debate about big rig driver fatigue and the adherence to federal regulations —- often more honored in the breach than in reality. This particular accident is one of hundreds that happen every year. In fact, statistics released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration suggest that close to 80,000 suffered serious injuries in truck accidents in 2010. Of that number, more than 3,500 died. The cause of most of these accidents? Apparently, driver fatigue is the culprit in at least 13 percent of the big rig wrecks —- those numbers courtesy of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

The number killed on highways by truckers drifting off has sparked the FMCSA to further restrict the time truckers are allowed to spend driving. Now, they are mandated to take 34 hours of down time, per week, which would include two nights off in a row, and a limit of 11 hours driving. While this kind of industry regulation likely makes good sense and could reduce the chance of horrific crashes, the trucking industry does not like it. They say it would cost them money, about $470 million/year, delay product delivery and end up with more big rigs on the road during peak traffic times. Nowhere do they mention driver safety or the safety of others on the road.

Those whose life is dedicated to safety on the roads think the newer rules do not go far enough to protect others sharing the highways, and can see some loopholes that companies may use to circumvent the restrictions. And so safety comes full circle with advocates on one side of the fence tightening rules, but leaving loopholes and truckers and their employers striving for more hours, not less, to make money and deliver product expeditiously. Who wins?

Certainly not the car driver who gets into a crash with an 80,000-lb. rig gone out of control because the trucker fell asleep at the wheel. If you have been in an accident involving a semi, contact a personal injury attorney for help. If you want compensation, these multi-jurisdictional accidents need an experienced injury attorney to speak for you in court.

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