Keeping Drivers Awake Behind the Wheel

Driver Fatigue

Earlier this year, five students were killed in an accident that may have been caused by a trucker who fell asleep at the wheel. Just this week, we learned the truck driver responsible for the crash that killed one man and severely injured comedian Tracy Morgan hadn’t slept for 28 hours.

The dangers of fatigued driving and falling asleep at the wheel are obvious. Recently, agencies like the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration have stepped up efforts to regulate truckers’ driving time, placing more restrictions on the number of hours they are allowed to drive before taking a rest.

Current guidelines allow for drivers to work a maximum of 14 hours a day, with only 11 of those permissible to be on the road. The remaining 10 hours must be spent off-duty.

The problem comes from the enforcement — or lack thereof — of these guidelines. With over 15 million trucks in operation in the U.S., many with knowledge of the trucking industry  — including Fried Rogers Goldberg partner Joe Fried — contend that the number of watchful, enforcing eyes is simply too far outnumbered to properly supervise.

“We don’t have a law enforcement community that is anywhere near big enough that they can adequately check everybody’s log books,” Fried told a local TV station in May. “So there’s an element of: We have to trust the industry to do this properly.”

Exacerbating this issue are reports that as many as 28% of truck drivers experience sleep apnea, a condition that affects breathing patterns during sleep. More importantly, studies have indicated that sleep apnea is a contributor to daytime sleepiness — an obvious menace when truck drivers spend so much of the day on the road.

Dangerous Incentives

These concerns come on the heels of several trucking accidents right in our backyard, such as the April crash near Savannah that tragically ended the lives of five nursing students. Fried Rogers Goldberg is representing some of these families. The driver of the truck had a documented history of falling asleep at the wheel.

Regulation proposals have appropriately tightened as these accidents have gotten more attention, and with many semis approaching 80,000 pounds, their sheer size and weight makes any accident involving a truck one with high potential for fatalities. With the majority of cases resulting in the drivers of the cars involved suffering the consequences.

In fact, passenger vehicle occupants make up 98% of the deaths from semi-truck accidents. Considering the size difference, this macabre statistic is not difficult to believe, but is gut-wrenching to swallow. It also begs the question: why do some truck drivers act so irresponsibly when the likelihood of a fatality in an accident is so high?

Part of the answer lies in the incentives drivers receive to spend more hours on the road and deliver cargo as quickly as humanly possible – or faster. Most trucking companies pay employees by total number of miles driven, which encourages drivers to not only drive fatigued, but also to speed, drive over their allotted limit of hours and to sidestep regular safety and maintenance inspections in order to stay on the road.

Unrealistic deadlines and lenience on drivers who skew and misrepresent their schedule also contributes to drivers taking more risks – and because many truckers have this motivation to cover more miles, faster, it becomes natural to eschew sleep in favor of pursuing a bigger pay check.

A Possible Solution

Certain trucking companies, like Dupré Logistics, are switching to an hourly-based pay model, where truckers are compensated for all time spent on the road, as well as for pre-trip inspection, wait and loading time. This method de-incentivizes drivers’ from rushing to delivery points, and allows them to comfortably drive and rest at their leisure – giving them more time to sleep, and helping to defuse a potentially dangerous situation on the road.

According to the Truckers Report, this program has cut Dupré’s risk management expenses by 34%, suggesting the practice makes sense not just from a safety standpoint, but from a financial perspective as well.

Who We Are

The truck accident attorneys at Fried Rogers Goldberg in Atlanta have focused on truck accident litigation for years. We have recovered numerous six- and seven-figure verdicts and settlements for people injured in an accident involving a tractor trailer. If you’ve been hurt in a truck accident, call us at (404) 591-1800 to discuss your situation with one of our attorneys.

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