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Truck Driver Fatigue More Dangerous than Drunk Drivers

Garcia & Artigliere

Everyone knows the dangers of drunk driving. Impaired judgment, slower reaction times, and higher accident rates are expected, but for commercial truck drivers, fatigue poses a far greater threat than alcohol.

According to current estimates, truck driver fatigue is a contributing factor in 30 to 40 percent of all big truck crashes. Compare this to the fact that only 1 percent of all truck accidents involve a commercial truck driver operating a big rig under the influence of alcohol.

But trucking companies are businesses. Too many of them put profits over people, and they push drivers to drive longer hours. Couple this with a shortage of truck drivers and pay-per-mile incentives and truck drivers are on often on the road longer than they should be.

As early as 1989, the United States Department of Transportation became deeply concerned with the dangers presented by tired semi-truck drivers. Statistics clearly demonstrated that driver fatigue was a bigger problem than drunk truck drivers.

In 1998 USDOT published a 7-year study, Commercial Motor Vehicle/Driver Fatigue and Alertness Study, that researched the effects of truck driver fatigue. It was found that when truck drivers become sleepy from excessive daily and weekly work hours, they exponentially increased the risk of big rig accidents that result in death or serious injuries.

In fact, the possibility of a crash doubles from the 8th to the 10th hour of driving. And it doubles again from the 10th to the 11th hour.

After finding that drivers were usually poor judges of their own levels of sleepiness and that they regularly do not obtain enough sleep to be alert drivers, the USDOT study provided the foundation for critical highway safety laws, such as maximum driving times.

Set at a 14-hour shift cap – though research shows drivers on the road longer than 10-hours are not capable of safe steering or normal lane tracking – large trucks are still involved in multiple-vehicle fatal crashes at twice the rate of passenger vehicles.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration reports that the deaths of more than 750 people and the injuries to 20,000 more people a year are attributable to tired truck drivers.

Yet even with the proof in front of them, trucking companies continue to fight vigorously against new regulations that would cut drivers’ on-the-road hours to 10 hours. Trucking associations hire lobbyists who are charged with influencing politicians to vote against any such legislation, and, when possible, to increase the hours truck drivers are permitted to be on the road.


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