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Risks and Preventative Laws of Truck Driver Fatigue

Safety regulations have recently focused on reducing fatigue in truck drivers. While rules have always been in place to help with this, changes made last year were geared toward making even greater improvements. As a result, it’s believed that fewer lives will be lost on the nation’s roads and highways.

What are the risks of truck driver fatigue?

Those who operate commercial motor vehicles oftentimes have to travel long distances. Drivers might have long work days/weeks and are faced with the pressures of meeting deadlines in order to pick up or deliver cargo. Stress and lack of sleep can cause fatigue to quickly set in. Just as alcohol can impair someone’s performance behind the wheel, so can sleepiness.

Sleepiness can disrupt:

  • alertness;
  • cognitive functioning;
  • attention; and
  • judgment.

This becomes even more dangerous when coupled with other factors. For instance, driving at night in and of itself can cause drowsiness. But adding the aforementioned pressures of a truck driver, it’s a potentially deadly mix.

A drowsy truck driver is at an increased risk of crashing. The truck might start to drift into another lane or fail to notice a hazard up ahead, such as debris in the road. In some cases the driver might fall asleep at the wheel and lose complete control of the truck.

Slowed reactions caused by fatigue can also lead to an accident. By the time the driver notices traffic has slowed or stopped, it might be too late. All attempts to hit the brakes could still result in a rear-end collision.

What preventative laws deal with the problem of truck driver fatigue?

On July 1, 2013, new hours-of-service (HOS) regulations from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) went into effect. One of them was that truckers must take a 30 minute break during the first eight hours of driving. The 11 hour daily driving limit remains the same. Drivers cannot operate a commercial motor vehicle for longer than 11 hours, without first being off duty at least 10 consecutive hours.

However, once hitting the eighth straight hour of driving, a 30 minute break must be taken. Of course, drivers can divvy this up a number of ways. For instance, drive a total of six hours, take a 30 minute break and then drive another five hours.

Another preventative law that went into effect in order to deal with fatigue is that truck drivers can no longer work an 82 hour work week. That has been reduced to a maximum of 70 hours. It does however, allow them to resume work if they rest for 34 consecutive hours. This must include at least two nights when sleep is most needed, between 1:00 and 5:00 am.

Penalties for violating these HOS regulations are stiff. Drivers could face up to $2,750 for each violation. And trucking companies could be fined as much as $11,000 per offense. The FMCSA believes these laws will prevent about 1,400 crashes every year—including the prevention of approximately 560 injuries and 19 deaths.

People who familiarize themselves with the risks of truck driver fatigue are one step ahead of the game. Once you know the possibilities of what could happen to you, and the preventative laws that are in place to protect you, it will be exponentially easier for an accident lawyer to build and argue your claim against the trucker or trucking company.

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