Fears that trucking accidents will rise if feds relax hours-of-service for truckers
We have hours-of-service regulations in place for a reason: to prevent truck crashes caused by drowsy driving. Under current regulations, truck drivers can only drive up to 11 hours within a 14-hour on-duty time period. In addition, truckers must take a 30-minute break when driving for more than eight hours and must have 10 consecutive hours off duty before driving again.
That may soon change, according to an article in U.S. News & World Report. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) currently seeks to relax the hours-of-service regulations. Safety advocates warn that doing so could increase the risk of drivers falling asleep behind the wheel and putting other road users in danger.
How common is drowsy driving?
Data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) shows that crashes involving large commercial trucks have increased. In 2017, approximately 4,237 fatal crashes, and 344,000 injurious crashes were reported - marking a 10 percent increase from 2016.
Approximately 57 percent of fatal crashes occurred in rural areas and another 27 percent occurred on interstates. Roughly 83 percent occurred between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. - a time period when truck drivers are at a high risk of dozing off behind the wheel.
Understanding the risk factors in drowsy driving
Of all fatal crashes in 2017, 60 truck drivers were found to have been fatigued. According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), however, drowsy driving crashes are underreported. The NTSB attributed drowsy driving truck crashes to "insufficient or poor-quality sleep" but it often doesn't leave any telltale signs at the scene of a crash - making it difficult for investigators to determine the cause.
Risk factors involved in drowsy driving may include:
- Medical conditions - especially sleep disorders
- Unpredictable work schedules
- Living environments
- Other personal choices
Actions that can reduce the risk
In order to address this pervasive problem, the NTSB discusses three key actions that should be taken:
- Owner/industry risk management: Those who work in the trucking industry should establish fatigue risk management programs and regularly track their success. A program like this should address scheduling, attendance, education, medical screening and treatment, personal responsibility during off-hours, issues with tasks and workload, rests and napping, and commuting.
- Updates to regulation should include the following:
- The hours-of-service regulations should include scientifically proven fatigue-prevention strategies for drivers who operate during nighttime hours.
- Drivers should be required to incorporate fatigue management methods from the North American Fatigue Management Program.
- Implement fatigue mitigation technology into trucks.
- Establish a program to identify drivers who are at risk of fatigue - such as those who suffer from obstructive sleep disorder (OSA) - and require medical evaluation and treatment before granting unrestricted medical certification.
- Certified medical examiners should be granted easy access to the FMCA's 2016 Medical Review Board guidance on OSA.
- Responsibility of drivers:
- Get the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
- Address any health concerns that could affect sleep with a doctor.
- Don't drive over the federally mandated hours-of-service limits and take a break if drowsiness sets in.
Regardless of how strict or relaxed the laws are, trucking companies and their drivers must uphold their duty. When they fail to do so, and their negligence results in someone getting hurt or killed, they should be held accountable.
The truck accident attorneys at Jacksonville law firm Pajcic & Pajcic has seen the devastation caused by negligent truckers. We have successfully represented truck crash victims - such as a $13 million verdict for a teenage driver who was severely injured in a crash with a log truck and $9.65 million paid to the family of a deceased motorist following a truck crash.
If you or a loved one was hurt in a crash, we'd like to discuss your legal options with you. Contact us online to schedule your free case evaluation.