Each year there are as many as 800 roadway fatalities caused by overly fatigued truck and bus drivers. Insufficient sleep decreases a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) driver’s level of alertness while driving. This problem is many times caused by the irregular schedules and economic pressures placed on CMV drivers by the trucking company that employs them. Most truck drivers don’t get paid by the hour, but instead they are paid by the mile or load. That creates an economic incentive to either be forced to drive over the hours of service limits or push themselves to do so. Lawyers in our firm recently had a case where a witness – a former employee of the trucking company – testified that the company forced the drivers to deliver loads that were impossible under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) hours of service limitations.
A recent report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine determined that additional research was needed to determine ways to minimize the crash risk associated with fatigued driving. The committee that conducted the study and wrote the report found that substantial data gaps limit understanding of the factors that affect the health and wellness of CMV drivers. The FMCSA has several policies and programs to improve highway safety involving large trucks and buses that are based on the current scientific understanding of operator fatigue, its causes, and its consequences. For example, hours-of-service (HOS) regulations for truck and bus drivers specify the maximum number of hours drivers can work in a day and in a work week, based on the assumption that drivers will have enough time to obtain adequate sleep between shifts, and therefore will be more alert while driving. However, HOS rules can only limit hours spent working; they cannot require drivers to get adequate sleep and rest while off duty.
The FMCSA also requires medical examinations of CMV drivers; however, the committee concluded what our firm has seen in numerous cases. That is these medical exams have very limited effectiveness in determining drivers who are prone to excessive fatigue due to sleep apnea or other medical reasons. The report correctly calls for research on whether carriers are taking advantage of programs that are being offered to detect and treat CMV drivers that deal with sleep related medical conditions like sleep apnea. The study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
All of us at Beasley Allen support efforts to make our roads safer and the problem discussed above can be solved. If you have any further questions about truck accidents or specifically about fatigued driving, contact Chris Glover, a lawyer in our firm’s Personal Injury/Products Liability Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Chris.Glover@beasleyallen.com.
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