Commercial vehicles account for a disproportionate amount of traffic accidents in Delaware and the size of these vehicles often contributes to very severe crashes, especially when a passenger vehicle is involved. While truck accidents can be caused by any number of factors, studies have found that a large share of these serious accidents are the result of truck driver fatigue.
The link between driver fatigue and commercial truck accidents is not new, as the National Safety Council issued a report on the issue as early as 1935. Fatigue is an even greater problem today than it was nearly a century ago; the National Sleep Foundation estimates that 37% of adults are so tired during the day that it interferes with activities and work. Fatigue can be dangerous for any driver, but it’s more likely to be a problem for truck drivers who face strict deadlines and long hours on the road.
The long-haul trucking industry has faced little regulation over its life. Truck drivers do not receive overtime protection under the Fair Labor Standards Act and they are usually paid by the mile, which means the farther a driver travels and the longer he or she stays on the road, the greater the paycheck. This can put significant pressure on drivers to keep driving, even if they are tired. This pressure is heightened by the fact that the majority of drivers do not receive payment for the time they spend waiting for loading and unloading, which means many feel like they need to drive farther to make up for this lost time.
The trucking industry has a very high turnover rate as it’s hard to find people willing to work 70+ hours per week and leave a family for an extended amount of time in exchange for a wage that is hardly competitive.
Most truck drivers do not even receive screening for common sleep disorders like sleep apnea that can contribute to fatigue on the road nor do they receive training about the consequences of fatigued driving. While regulations prohibit motor carriers from allowing a fatigued driver to keep driving when it’s unsafe, there is no one in the truck to monitor the driver so most rely on the most basic of “fatigue countermeasures.”
In 2001, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued new guidelines to reduce fatigued driving by changing “hours of service” rules for commercial truck drivers. The guidelines require that drivers take a 30-minute rest within the first 8 hours of every shift while implementing a 34-hour rest period. The rule requires that drivers use this 34-hour “restart” once every 7 days, including at least two periods of rest between 1 am and 5 am. While this rule reduces the maximum number of hours a driver can be on the road each week from 82 to 70, it still doesn’t go far enough to solve the problem.
There is no test to determine when a driver is fatigued when there is an accident and truck crashes still result in over 5,000 fatalities across the country each year. There are not even solid statistics on how many accidents are caused by driver fatigue, although studies estimate anywhere from 2% to 58% of truck accidents involve fatigue.
The dangers of fatigued driving are clear and tired truck drivers pose a very real threat to other drivers on the road. If you have been involved in a truck accident in Delaware, it’s important to seek legal counsel from an experienced attorney who understands these risks and can investigate whether fatigue may have played a role in your accident. Contact the Law Offices of Edelstein Martin & Nelson – Wilmington today for a free consultation with a Delaware trucking accident lawyer who can help you explore your legal options.