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Truck Drivers Being Driven to Exhaustion

  • When trucking companies encourage their drivers to stay behind the wheel too long, it jeopardizes the safety of everyone on the road.


    We all know that sleep is important. Getting a solid night of sleep can be critical to your health and well-being, as well as your job performance. This is particularly important if your job relies on your ability to remain alert. But what happens if the very job that requires you to get lots of sleep to perform well is also what's preventing you from getting adequate rest?


    That's the situation that many truck drivers find themselves in, given incentive programs and other factors that encourage them to spend more time on the road than is safe or healthy. Unfortunately, driving while tired often has the same effect as driving under the influence—and can be just as dangerous.


    According to a study from the National Institute of Health, driving while fatigued can mimic the effects of drunk driving. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that missing just two to three hours of sleep can increase the risk of a car accident by 400%. That same study found that a person who sleeps less than 4 hours in a 24 hour period is 11.5 times more-likely to be in a car accident than someone who got a full night of sleep.


    Unfortunately, many drivers are faced with an unenviable choice: continue driving past their limit, or risk upsetting their superiors and miss out on potential income. The deadlines set by their employers are often unrealistic, forcing them to forego sleep in order to meet their targets—and placing everyone else on the road in danger.


    What Does the Law Say?


    Federal law sets forth limits on how long commercial truck drivers can be behind the wheel without taking a break. Under FMCSA regulations, drivers carrying property are subject to a limit of 11 hours of driving after 10 consecutive hours off duty. They cannot work more than 14 hours a day, during which time they can only drive for 11 hours. Truck drivers may not drive after 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days. This period of time re-starts after a driver takes 34 or more consecutive hours off duty. Similar regulations also exist for commercial drivers carrying passengers (i.e., buses).


    These regulations exist for good reason, but many trucking companies pay drivers by the trip/load rather than for the number of hours that they work. This means that truckers often have an incentive to violate the FMCSA "hours of service" limits—with their employers' implicit or explicit approval.


    If a truck driver causes an accident because he or she is driving while fatigued, you may have a claim against both the driver and the trucking company. In Texas, the Doctrine of Respondent Superior allows individuals to hold companies responsible for certain acts committed by their employees that are conducted within the scope of their employment. The law allows victims to pursue damages against the employer because employers generally have the right to control the means and methods of their employees' work.


    In order to hold these unscrupulous logistics companies liable for their negligence, you or your truck accident attorney must be able to prove that they were negligent in hiring, training, or supervising their drivers. This can be done by looking at the company's hiring practices, subpoenaing records from the trucking company (e.g., driver logs, ECM data), and conducting an independent investigation.


    Are Self-Driving Trucks the Solution?


    One possible solution to reducing the number of truck accidents caused by driver error is already on the horizon: autonomous vehicles. Companies such as Tesla, GM, Daimler, Waymo, and Volvo are already testing prototypes of self-driving trucks. The goal of this technology is to limit the potential for human error, including the problem of driver fatigue.


    Self-driving cars have shown significant promise, yet trucks present a unique challenge as they're carrying far more mass than normal vehicles. Big rigs take far more time and distance to come to a stop, they require a certain amount of room to make turns or even to change lanes, and they have massive blind spots.


    Many in the industry still see significant promise in the idea of self-driving trucks, but stress that we're still in the very beginning stages. The best thing we can do at this point is to ensure that these companies follow federal regulations—and hold them legally responsible for their negligence when they don't.