Tired Truck Drivers Often Cause Serious Accidents, Studies Report

Macon, Georgia truck accident attorneyGeorgia truck accident attorney explains statistics, rules and tactics for success

Accidents caused by tired truck drivers or truck drivers asleep at the wheel wreak havoc on the roads, according to the latest statistics. And one study suggests the problem may be even worse. That’s why it’s critical that truck drivers obey the rules of the road and prevent serious truck accidents across the country.

Accident statistics

Accident statistics nationwide are primarily compiled by two federal agencies – the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Both agencies are managed by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The NHTSA compiles all motor vehicle accident statistics. The FMCSA compiles accident statistics for commercial truck accidents.

According to the latest NHTSA statistics, a total of 37,461 people nationwide died in motor vehicle accidents nationwide, as reported by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute. That figure represents the largest number of motor vehicle fatalities in a single year since 2007. The same is true for the State of Georgia, where 1,554 people died in motor vehicle accidents in 2016, the highest figure since 2007, when 1,641 people died in motor vehicle accidents.

Commercial truck accident statistics – meaning accidents caused by drivers with a commercial driving license (CDL) – are not currently available for 2016. But in 2015, a total of 4,337 people died nationwide in commercial truck accidents, according to the FMCSA. That figure represents the largest total number of fatalities attributed to commercial truck accidents since 2008, when 4,545 people died nationwide in commercial truck accidents.

As far as accidents caused by tired drivers, 2016 statistics for all drivers compiled by the NHTSA reported that drowsy driving accounted for 803 fatalities, a decrease of 3.5 percent compared to 2015. While it is not clear how many of those drowsy drivers were commercial truckers, it is well known that fatigue is a widespread problem in the trucking industry.

Problem possibly worse

The apparent decrease in 2016 in the number of motor vehicle accident fatalities caused by tired drivers might seem to indicate that accidents caused by drivers asleep at the wheel are becoming less of a problem. But another recent study suggests otherwise.

The AAA Foundation examined dashboard videos from 700 accidents and estimated that 9.5 percent of all motor vehicle accidents are caused by drowsy drivers, according to a news article about the foundation’s findings published Feb. 8, 2018 in USA Today. Such figures climb to more than 10.8 percent in more severe crashes.

In contrast, federal officials estimate that tired drivers cause only 1 to 2 percent of motor vehicle accidents nationwide, USA Today reports. “Drowsy driving is a bigger traffic safety issue than federal estimates show,” David Yang, the AAA Foundation’s executive director, said in the USA Today article.

Tired truck drivers

While any driver can potentially cause an asleep at the wheel accident, truck drivers have historically caused significantly more of these accidents. Commercial truck drivers are more likely to cause drowsy driving accidents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The same report noted that 1 in 25 adult drivers had fallen asleep while driving within the past 30 days.

An estimated 28 percent of commercial truck drivers suffer from sleep apnea, a potentially life-threatening sleep disorder, according to the FMCSA. Sleep apnea can be especially dangerous for commercial truck drivers since they do not get a full night’s rest while sleeping, often waking up hundreds of times during the night. As a result, these drivers often have a hard time staying awake and alert while driving their trucks.

Rules and regulations

Federal officials have long been aware that commercial truck drivers often fall asleep at the wheel. That’s why federal officials created Hours of Service (HOS) regulations designed to keep truck drivers awake and alert on the road. The FMCSA enforces HOS regulations. These regulations include:

  • 11-hour driving limit after 10 hours off duty
  • 14-hour working limit (including 11 hours of driving) after 10 hours off duty
  • Mandatory 30-minute rest breaks every 8 hours
  • 60-hour driving limit every 7 consecutive days
  • 70-hour driving limit every 8 consecutive days
  • Sleeping berth provision – drivers must be in the truck’s sleeping berth for at least 8 consecutive hours, plus 2 consecutive hours in the sleeping berth or off duty

Record keeping rules

In order to verify that commercial truck drivers are following the HOS rules, most commercial trucks are equipped with an electronic logging device (ELD). These devices track a wide range of information, including:

  • Location of truck
  • When truck was operating
  • If truck engine was running or idling

The federal government instituted a mandate that most commercial trucks must be equipped with an ELD as of December 2017, according to the FMCSA, which is responsible for enforcing such rules. The ELD mandate was enacted in an effort to reduce accidents caused by tired truck drivers.

Along with ELDs, commercial truck drivers are required to keep a log book keeping track of how many hours they work, including hours spent working while not driving as well as when the driver is on duty or off duty. This record of working hours for truck drivers is known as a Record of Duty Status (RODS). Many drivers now keep RODS electronically. But some drivers still also keep written records.

Truck drivers and trucking companies are required to keep such data for six months. After that time, they are legally allowed to destroy such data, according to the FMCSA. However, if an attorney intervenes, that data can be preserved as evidence in a lawsuit.

Investigation tactics

In the event of an accident caused by a commercial truck driver, data collected by ELDs and other recording devices can be critical pieces of information in an accident investigation. For example, if the ELD recorded that a driver exceeded the HOS rules and drove beyond the legally permitted number of hours, such information could be used to support a claim that the truck driver fell asleep at the wheel, even if the driver denies falling asleep.

However, since truck drivers and trucking companies are only required to keep such data for six months, it’s critical that investigators act quickly to obtain such information before it is permanently destroyed. Trucking companies can also notoriously be difficult to deal with after an accident and might refuse to provide such information to investigators or insurance company officials for the other driver.

How an attorney can help

An experienced truck accident attorney can help accident victims obtain the information they need about an accident in a timely, professional manner. If the truck driver or trucking company refuses to provide ELD data, a lawyer can take legal action to protect and obtain this information.

An attorney can also negotiate with the trucking company and its insurance provider for a financial settlement that covers the true cost of the accident, including future medical expenses and future lost income during the injury victim’s recovery. If the trucking company or its insurance provider refuses to cooperate, an attorney can file a lawsuit seeking damages (financial compensation) for the accident.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a truck accident in Georgia, contact the Law Offices of Jon R. Hawk in Macon to schedule a free case evaluation to learn more about your specific legal options.

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