No motorist should drive while tired, but this is perhaps even truer for truck drivers. This is because many tractor-trailers weigh in excess of 80,000-lbs and, if a truck driver falls asleep at the wheel, the truck essentially becomes a massive missile barreling down the highway.
While the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has hours-of-service regulations meant to limit the number of hours a trucker may drive without a break, these rules are not always followed. While these rules may be broken for a variety of reasons, a major contributing factor is the coercion placed on truckers from their employers. Learn more about this dangerous trend and the effects it has on the trucking industry and on drivers’ safety.
The Dangers of Drowsy Driving
Drowsiness has a number of dangerous effects on a person’s ability to drive. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as drunk driving.
Studies have shown that being awake for at least 18 hours can be the same as driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.05%, and being awake for at least 24 hours can be the same as driving with a BAC of 0.10%. Both of these BAC amounts are over the legal limit for commercial drivers and other drivers (0.04% and 0.08%, respectively).
The main ways that drowsiness affects driving ability include:
- Makes drivers less attentive
- Slows reaction time
- Affects a driver’s ability to make decisions
The CDC also states that certain individuals are more likely to drive while drowsy, including:
- Commercial drivers who operate vehicles including tractor-trailers, tow trucks, and buses
- Shift workers who work the night shift or long shifts
- Drivers with untreated sleep disorders
- Drivers who use medications that make them drowsy
Since commercial drivers, including truckers, are more likely to drive while drowsy, it’s vital that truckers follow federal mandates for driving limits and that trucking companies enforce these mandates among their staff. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen.
What Are the FMCSA’s Rules for Drowsy Driving?
In order to reduce the number of drowsy truckers on the road, the FMCSA implemented hours-of-service regulations that limit the number of hours a trucker may drive without a break. Currently, these HOS regulations are as follows:
- 30-minute break requirement: Requires a break of at least 30 consecutive minutes after eight cumulative hours of driving time (instead of on-duty time) and allows an on-duty/not driving period to qualify as the required break.
- Sleeper berth provision: Allows a driver to meet the 10-hour minimum off-duty requirement by spending at least 7 hours of that period in the berth combined with a minimum off-duty period of at least 2 hours spent inside or outside the berth, provided the two periods total at least 10 hours.
Most commercial drivers must comply with these regulations, including those driving vehicles with the following characteristics:
- Weighs 10,001 pounds or more
- Has a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,001 pounds or more
- Is designed or used to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver, not for compensation
- Is designed or used to transport nine or more passengers, including the driver, for compensation
- Is transporting hazardous materials in a quantity requiring placards
Although these regulations are extensive, they are not always followed. This is due to a combination of factors, with a major one being trucking companies’ cultures of coercion to meet deadlines, whatever the cost.
How Trucking Companies Encourage Unsafe Driving Practices
Sadly, corporations often put profit before people. This is true in the trucking industry as well. Although the FMCSA HOS regulations are clear, many trucking companies encourage their drivers, either through implied coercion or explicit orders, to “push on” and drive past both the HOS regulations and truckers’ own limits for safe driving.
There may be several unjustifiable ways a trucking company would encourage their truckers to drive past safe limits, including:
- Threatening truckers with demotion or termination if they do not meet delivery deadlines
- Offering truckers financial incentives to arrive at destinations ahead of schedule, even if that means violating HOS regulations to do so
- Implying that a culture of “don’t ask, don’t tell” exists when it comes to forging trucking logbooks or using medication to stay awake
Company cultures such as these can encourage, through both positive and negative reinforcement, that truckers should “press on” and drive past safe limits as much as possible. This can have devastating consequences, both for truckers and other motorists on the road.
Our firm has direct experience with truck accidents caused by trucker fatigue. In a recent case of ours, the driver of a semi-truck fell asleep at the wheel and the truck tipped over, blocking the road on Highway 70 between Las Cruces and Alamogordo in the early morning. Our client’s husband crashed into the dark underside of the tipped-over trailer because it was virtually invisible on the dark road. He died at the scene.
Tragedies such as these indicate the danger of coercive cultures at trucking companies that encourage unsafe driving practices.
Injured in a Truck Crash? Contact Us Today
Since trucks are commercial vehicles, there are many different parties that may be held liable for a crash, including the trucking company, the truck driver, and more. Most of the time, the trucking company can be held at least partially liable for an accident involving a truck from their fleet.
Such cases are complicated and require the guidance of an experienced legal professional. Our New Mexico personal injury attorneys at McGinn, Montoya, Love & Curry, P.A. have the experience and resources needed to take on large trucking companies and their insurers. We have helped countless clients recover the compensation they deserve after a devastating accident, and we’re here to help you too.
Call McGinn, Montoya, Love & Curry, P.A. at (505) 405-4441 to schedule a free consultation.