Tired Truckers—Asleep Behind the Wheel in Georgia
Driving while overly tired can be dangerous for any driver, but it is especially hazardous for the drivers of 80,000-pound tractor-trailers. Although most truck drivers are safe and law-abiding, these massive vehicles can cause catastrophic injuries and even fatalities. In fact, driving while tired has been shown to impair drivers in a manner similar to drinking while driving. This under-recognized cause of accidents could impact road users across Georgia.
At Montlick & Associates, Attorneys at Law, our Atlanta truck accident attorneys have witnessed the destruction that tired truckers can have on innocent passenger motor vehicle occupants. Current laws attempt to protect the public by setting requirements for rest among truck drivers, but many feel the laws do not go far enough. In this blog post, we explore the issue of tired truckers and some current legislation that could make an impact on this tremendous problem.
The Impact of Fatigue on the Body
Fatigue has a profound impact on the body, affecting your senses, reaction time, coordination, alertness, and much more. Several studies have been conducted to assess the impact of fatigue on driving. One study published in the journal Traffic Injury Prevention analyzed the physical characteristics of tired and drunk drivers. Researchers found that both fatigued and drunk driving resulted in a change in physical characteristics, with fatigue impacting the body's heart rate as well as reaction time to light and sound. Researchers concluded that driver's physical characteristics will be more seriously impaired if the driver continues to drive while tired.
Another study, sponsored by the Transportation Research Board, examined the effects of alcohol and fatigue on driver safety performance under various roadway scenarios. The study found that driver fatigue significantly impacted driver safety, and the effect of fatigue was further influenced by road conditions, such as curved roads. Fatigue influenced the drivers' speed and lane positions, among other factors.
Further, a study published in Accident Analysis & Prevention used simulated driving courses to assess fatigue on the driver's body and as it pertains to the ability to drive safely. The study found that drivers who did not get adequate sleep the night before:
• Paid less attention to the road;
• Had slower reaction times and did not brake or steer as quickly as needed;
• Were less likely to make good driving decisions.
All of these studies and the numerous others conducted over the years tend to support that drowsiness impacts your body in a tremendous way and also makes you a less safe driver. Extreme fatigue is the most dangerous as it can lead to falling asleep behind the wheel, but even milder fatigue can negatively affect your ability to drive in a responsible manner.
Drowsy Driving is a National Problem
Drowsy driving is a tremendous problem in Georgia and the rest of the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that drowsy driving resulted in over 72,000 accidents, 44,000 injuries, and 800 deaths in the year 2013. However, it is believed this figure is far lower than reality due to a lack of proper reporting of tired driving as a cause of fatal accidents. In fact, it is more likely that drowsy driving causes upwards of 6,000 fatal accidents a year.
Tired Truckers Cause String of Georgia Accidents
Georgia has been the site of several tired trucking crashes in the past year. Last April, a tractor trailer struck a line of cars on Interstate 16 that had backed up due to an earlier truck accident. The driver tragically claimed the lives of five nursing students who were headed to their final day of clinicals. Investigations revealed that the driver had a history of falling asleep behind the wheel and may have suffered from sleep apnea. The horrific accident resulted in several large settlements against the trucking company who employed the driver.
A month later, another tractor-trailer traveling on Interstate 16 drifted into a construction zone and hit several stopped cars, killing five people. It is believed the truck driver fell asleep at the wheel, leading to the tragic crash.
These are just a few examples of fatal truck accidents tied to fatigue in our state. On a national level, the Tracy Morgan truck accident called the nation's attention to the issue of tired truckers. The truck driver who plowed into Morgan's limousine and severely injured him, while killing his friend and co-worker, had not slept for over 24 hours before the crash. Accidents like these demonstrate that truck driver fatigue is an issue that should concern us all and requires action.
Fatal Truck Accidents Are On the Rise—Is Driver Fatigue to Blame?
Recent statistics show that fatal truck accidents are on the rise. Truck accidents kill around 4,000 people each year, which equates to 11 deaths a day. Also, over 100,000 people are injured in truck accidents annually, many seriously and even permanently. Between the years 2009 and 2012, fatal crashes increased 18 percent. This increase is considerable, especially when viewed along statistics during those same years that show fatal car accidents are down 1.74 percent. Even more troubling, fatal truck accidents are increasing, while the overall number of trucks and distance of trucks driven annually is down. This means that something within the industry is driving up fatal accident rates, and the trend is not linked to growth.
Some believe tired trucking may be at least part of the problem. Truck drivers today work long, hard hours, frequently driving through the night and rushing to deliver a load so that they can pick up the next. Federal laws exist that attempt to regulate the number of hours drivers are on the road, but these laws are not always observed, and even when they are adhered to, many believe they do not go far enough.
Laws Concerning Truck Driver Rest Periods
The United States Department of Transportation regulates the trucking industry with a number of laws. Some of these laws include limits on how much time drivers can spend on the road. The majority of commercial truckers must comply with the hours of service rules, which apply to any truck in interstate commerce that weighs over 10,001 pounds. Currently, the hours of service rules are as follows:
- Truckers may drive a total of 11 hours only after ten consecutive off-duty hours;
- Drivers may not drive after more than 14 consecutive hours on-duty, including time spent on non-driving tasks) and can only spend 14 consecutive hours on-duty after ten consecutive hours off;
- Drivers must stop if more than eight hours have passed since their last sleeping break or last off-duty;
- Truckers may not drive after 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days. A driver may restart a 7/8 consecutive day period by taking more than 34 hours off-duty.
An additional provision was passed that would require the restart period to include two periods from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. However, after much lobbying from the trucking industry against the provision, its enforcement was suspended. It will not be enforced until the Secretary submits a Driver Restart Study to support the importance of the provision.
Truck carriers could be fined up to $11,000 for each violation of the hours of service requirements, and drivers may be fined up to $2,750. Certain trucks are exempt from some of the requirements, including short-haul truckers.
While these laws are important for regulation of the industry, they have also been criticized. Fourteen hours on-duty is still quite a long time of driving, and many feel it still results in fatigue, especially when these hours may be during the night. Advocates also believe the 34-hour restart period is not enough time to recuperate after an extremely long work week to hit the road again. Even further, industry pressure leads some drivers to exceed the hours of service requirements, which can result in tired drivers.
Sleep Apnea Among Truckers
Another issue that is recently receiving attention is the potential problem of sleep apnea among truck drivers. Sleep apnea is a fairly common sleep disorder caused by obstructed airways. Those who suffer from sleep apnea will wake up still feeling exhausted and are prone to falling asleep during the day. It is believed that millions of Americans suffer from sleep apnea, though many are unaware of it.
There has been a push to check truck drivers for sleep apnea because it can lead to many fatigued drivers on the road. Risks for sleep apnea are tied to gender, weight, and other factors. Weight gain is one of the greatest risks for sleep apnea. According to a federal survey conducted in 2014, two-thirds of all truck drivers are considered obese, a risk factor for sleep apnea. Further, the majority of truck drivers are men, and men are at higher risk for developing sleep apnea than women. All of these factors are troublesome and tend to support the a trend in the trucking industry indicating that truckers are at considerable risk of sleep apnea.
A study released by the Harvard School of Public Health looked at 3,600 truck drivers and found that drivers with sleep apnea that was not treated were five times as likely to get into at-fault truck accidents than those drivers without the condition. The study examined truckers with sleep apnea to those without it during the years of 2006 to 2010. Among the drivers, some were treating their sleep apnea with an APAP device, which delivers pressurized air. Others were untreated. Those who did not treat their obstructive sleep apnea had the highest crash rates, while those who did had crash rates equivalent to those without the condition.
Given these statistics, it seems critical and necessary for the industry to regulate sleep disorders. Truck drivers should be screened for sleep apnea and should not be allowed to operate a truck unless they are receiving appropriate treatment. The United States Department of Transportation is concerned of the issue and plans to enact legislation soon that would target sleep apnea and other sleep disorders among truckers.
Contact a Truck Accident Attorney Today
Driver fatigue can be hard to detect as there is no roadside test that can definitively determine whether a driver was fatigued. For this reason, it is important to contact a truck accident attorney as soon as possible after your accident. An attorney can investigate the potential role of fatigue in the accident and take the appropriate legal steps.
Put Our Law Firm's Over 30 Years of Legal Experience to Work For Your Case!
If you or a loved one has been injured in a truck accident, the Atlanta Truck Accident Lawyers at Montlick and Associates, Attorneys at Law, are here to help. For over 30 years, our firm has represented thousands of accident victims across Georgia, including but not limited to Albany, Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Gainesville, Macon, Marietta, Rome, Roswell, Savannah, Smyrna, Valdosta, Warner Robins and all smaller cities and rural areas in the state.
No matter where you are located, our attorneys are just a phone call away, and we will even come to you. Call us 24 hours a day/7 days a week for your Free Consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333). You can also visit us online at www.montlick.com and use our Free Case Evaluation Form or 24-hour Live Online Chat.