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Truck Driver Fatigue | Service Hours Limitations

Preventing Truck Driver Fatigue Reduces Accident Frequency

One of the significant factors in many truck accidents is driver fatigue. Operating a truck — whether by an independent-owned truck driver or by a driver employed by a trucking carrier — is a business. The truck only makes money while it’s moving. Or rather, it only makes money when it completes the delivery of a load, and the sooner that happens, the sooner the truck is available to start another money-earning trip, and so forth. Likewise, drivers are making money when they’re driving, not when they’re sleeping, eating, or taking other necessary breaks required by daily life. It has long been recognized that these pressures to keep drivers and trucks moving will lead some truckers and some trucking companies to push the levels of driver fatigue that can be safely sustained. When truck driver fatigue may be a cause of injuries that result from a truck accident, an experienced personal injury attorney will focus on investigating whether that driver has violated strict service hours limitations and whether the driver’s employer has improperly pushed its employees to do so.

Problems and Statistics

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimated for one recent year (2017) that there were:

  • More than 90,000 traffic accidents reported by law enforcement that involved fatigued drivers.
  • Approximately 50,000 injuries were caused by traffic collisions involving driver fatigue.
  • About 800 people died as a result of these collisions.

Common factors in these types of wrecks include the time of day, with accidents peaking in early morning hours and late afternoon hours when the human body’s own natural rhythms encourage sleep. Fatigue-related crashes are also more common on rural roads and highways and for people driving by themselves — boring roads and a lack of company both encouraging sleep.

These problems are only enhanced for truck drivers, for whom the pressures of business push them to drive at all hours of the day, largely on boring highways and interstates, and typically driving solo. One study from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in the 1990s concluded that truck driver fatigue was a direct cause or contributing factor in approximately 31% of all truck accidents with fatalities.

Hours of Service Regulations and Personal Injury Litigation

That study from the NTSB and many others have prompted further requirements such as the “hours of service” rules from regulators like the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). These rules are rather complex, but their basic requirements are that cargo-carrying drivers like truck drivers:

  • Can drive at most for 11 hours after a break of 10 consecutive off-duty hours.
  • May not extend their driving time beyond the 14th hour after coming on duty.
  • Must take a half-hour break after 8 hours of driving.
  • May not drive after spending 60 or 70 hours on duty during a 7- or 8-day period, having to take a break of at least 34 consecutive hours before beginning a new on-duty period.

There are exceptions and variations for things like short-haul truckers (less than 150 radius from start location), trucks with sleeper cabins, delays for bad weather, etc. Passenger drivers such as bus drivers have somewhat more restrictive rules.

In any personal injury claim resulting from a truck accident, but especially in one where truck driver fatigue is suspected, a personal injury attorney will seek testimony and documents related to the driver’s time behind the wheel during the the period prior to the accident, as well as evidence related to any customary practices by that driver or their employer that encourage or require driving outside these strict rules.

View this video that covers the very complicated rules for truck driver hours of service and required record keeping:

California Truck Accident Lawyers

Hello, I’m is Ed Smith, a Truck Accident Lawyers in California.  Experienced personal injury attorneys know the significance of driver fatigue in many truck accidents and the importance of thoroughly investigating for any evidence that a driver has exceeded hours of service limitations. If you or a loved one has sustained a serious injury due to negligence of a commercial truck driver, please contact us today at (916) 921-6400 or toll free at (800) 404-5400 for free, friendly advice. You can also reach us through our online contact form.

We are proud to be members of the National Association of Distinguished Counsel and the Million Dollar Advocates Forum.

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