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Tractor Trailer Truck Driver Fatigue

   By: Michael Monheit

How current an issue is tractor trailer truck driver fatigue?

Truck driver fatigue is a very current issue and has been the subject of recent regulatory activity. Truck driver fatigue is the subject of new regulations issued by the USDOT (U.S. Department of Transportation) through the FMCSA branch, which handles motor carrier (trucking) issues . Pursuant to these rules, a tractor trailer truck driver may only drive 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off. In addition, in order to prevent driver fatiugue, a tractor trailer truck driver may not drive more than 60 hours in any seven day period. If a driver takes 2.5 days off, he can clean his consecutive hours slate and start at 0 again.

Why not require even stricter time limits to prevent driver fatigue?

Another factor in preventing accidents is driver experience. If stricter guidelines were put in place immediately, there would be an insufficient number of experienced drivers. Thus, while decreasing the number of accidents caused by tractor trailer truck driver fatigue, we would see an offset and even increase in total accidents due to those accidents caused by truck driver inexperience.

Are all hours logged, or just driving hours?

The Truckload Carriers Association has stated that drivers "understate their non-driving hours in their log books" and that to improve sales, companies expect their drivers to "wait, unload, and load at the shipper's warehouses at no cost to the shipper" and only then, begin logging time for their 11 hours. This may increase the actual work hours by 50%, thus significantly increases the risk of truck driver fatigue.

How common is tractor trailer driver fatiuge in causing accidents?

The NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) estimates that truck driver fatigue (lack of sleep, overwork) may be a factor in over a third of all large (semi, 18 wheeler) truck accidents. Further, the NTSB found that truck driver fatigue was the most likley cause in over 30% of crashes that were fatal to the fatigued truck driver.

How common is it for a truck driver to fall asleep at the wheel?

In the Journal of Public Health Policy, in 1992, a report showed that 1 in 5 truck drivers had been so fatigued that they had fallen asleep at the wheel.

What is truck driver fatigue?

Fatigue is a broad term and includes being "sleepy", "tired" or "exhausted". This applies not only to the performance of physical activity, but to mental activity as well. Thus, the decision making capabilities of a truck driver can be impared along with coordination. Fatigue can severely impair judgment. In addition, the more tired you become, the less likely you will be to recognize that you are tired.
What are the warning sigs of truck driver fatigue?
lack of concentration
red eyes
impaired reaction time
attention deficit
large steering corrections
missing road signs
lane drift

What are the high risk times for truck driver fatigue-related fatal crashes?

Studies show that fatal fatigue-related accidents tend to occur between 10pm-6am (during normal human sleep hours), and 1pm-3pm (after a heavy lunch). These times of the day coincide with dips in the body's circadian rhythms, and with drops in blood sugar, which are part of the human makeup.

Will these new regualtions cut down on fatal crashes due to truck driver fatigue?

The FMCSA estimates that 75 lives will be saved each year and 1,326 fatigue-related tractor-trailer truck accidents will be prevented annually.

About the Author

Michael Monheit, Esquire
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