Drowsiness and driving are never a good combination. This is particularly true for truckers who operate big-rigs weighing tens of thousands of pounds. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has implemented several regulations to reduce the number of drowsy truckers on the road.
Many of these regulations place the onus on trucking companies, rather than individual truckers. Sadly, however, many trucking companies choose to violate these regulations in an effort to expedite deliveries and increase profits. Learn the potential consequences of this decision and what you can do if you have been injured in a truck accident.
What Are the Regulations for Drowsy Driving?
The main regulation meant to reduce the number of drowsy truckers on the road is the hours-of-service rule. This rule restricts the maximum number of hours a trucker can drive without a break. Specifically, the rule enforces the following:
- 30-minute break requirement: Requires break of at least 30 consecutive minutes after 8 cumulative hours of driving time and allows an on-duty/not driving period to qualify as the required break.
- Sleeper berth provision: Modifies the sleeper berth exception to allow 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.
Additionally, federal regulation §392.3 states that, “No driver shall operate a commercial motor vehicle, and a motor carrier shall not require or permit a driver to operate a commercial motor vehicle, while the driver's ability or alertness is so impaired, or so likely to become impaired, through fatigue, illness, or any other cause, as to make it unsafe for him/her to begin or continue to operate the commercial motor vehicle.”
Thus, trucking companies are held just as responsible for drowsy truckers on the road as the truckers themselves. Arguably, the trucking company may be held even more liable for drowsy driving by their truckers due to the legal principle of “respondeat superior,” which holds an employer legally responsible for the wrongful acts of an employee, if such acts occur within the scope of the employment.
How Do Trucking Companies Violate These Regulations?
Although several mandates place a responsibility on trucking companies not to let their truckers drive while drowsy, many trucking companies choose to flout these laws. The main reason for this is protection of the companies’ profits and bottom lines.
Many trucking companies foster a culture of subtle intimidation and irresponsible incentives to get truckers to violate federal regulations, including:
- Threatening truckers with demotion or termination if they fail to meet unreasonable delivery deadlines
- Offering financial incentives to truckers if they meet unreasonable delivery deadlines
Such practices can have devastating consequences for truckers and everyone else on the road. Research has shown that driving while drowsy can be just as dangerous as driving while drunk. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- Being awake for at least 18 hours is the same as having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.05%, which is above the legal limit for commercial drivers of 0.04%.
- Being awake for at least 24 hours is equal to having a BAC of 0.10%. This is higher than the legal limit of 0.08% in all states.
It is not uncommon for such incapacity to result in serious truck crashes. Our firm has direct experience with such a case; 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 pitch-dark early morning. Our client’s husband was driving to work in his car when he crashed into the dark underside of the trailer and died at the scene.
This is just one tragic example of the potentially devastating consequences of truckers driving while drowsy. What is perhaps the most unjust thing about this situation is that many such accidents can be prevented when trucking companies follow federal regulations, as they should.
If you or someone you love has been harmed in a truck accident, our New Mexico personal injury attorneys are here to help. We have extensive experience in this area of the law, and we have helped countless clients recover millions of dollars. We may be able to help you, too.
Call McGinn, Montoya, Love & Curry, P.A. at (505) 405-4441 to schedule a free consultation.