In 2021 around 500,000 accidents involving commercial trucks occurred, which is a 52% increase in accidents compared to 2009. Why is there a steady increase in truck-related accidents and fatalities with the increased use of technology to monitor driver rest times?
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, in 2021, 13 percent of the 5,601 fatal commercial truck accidents involved a drowsy truck driver. To better understand the impacts and dangers of truck driver fatigue, continue reading to learn about key statistics and the FMCSA hours of service regulations to combat this issue.
Why is Truck Driver Fatigue Dangerous?
Truck driver fatigue can result in severe injury or fatalities if an accident occurs. Most commonly, the consequences of fatigue are impaired cognitive processing and judgment, reduced awareness and attentional capacity, and reduced reaction time. Although federal regulations are in place to limit the amount of time a trucker can drive, catastrophic accidents still happen because drivers may not follow these guidelines.
Studies have shown that impaired alertness, concentration, and attention are consequences of fatigue. There are physical and cognitive effects when a truck driver is tired, increasing the likelihood of an accident. As mental and motor processing become impaired, driver performance decreases, and there is an increased risk for errors, near misses, and accidents. The physical effects of fatigue include:
- Decreased eye movement
- Decreased brain activity
- Slowed muscle response
- Nodding off
The cognitive effects of fatigue can be more harmful to staying alert while driving, these include:
- Drifting into other lanes
- Forgetting the last few miles you drove
- Experiencing “tunnel vision” (when you lose the sense of what is going on in the periphery)
- Experiencing “microsleeps” (brief sleep episodes lasting from a fraction of a second up to 30 seconds)
- Impaired alertness
- Decreased concentration and attention
- Difficulty filtering pertinent information from the environment
- Inability to process situational data rapidly and accurately to make safe decisions
- Slowed reaction time
- Decreased vigilance
There are many reasons that truck driver fatigue occurs. The Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration notes that truck driver fatigue can result from inadequate sleep, lengthy hours of work, physical or mental exertion that harms performance, or strenuous activities.
Issues that Contribute to Truck Driver Fatigue
Studies have shown that driver fatigue or sleep deprivation have similar symptoms one sees in those driving under the influence of alcohol. Twenty-four hours of sleep deprivation causes drivers to be as impaired as someone with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.10 percent, which is over the legal limit for driving under the influence. Typically, semi-truck driver fatigue is caused by:
- Insufficient sleep
- Exceeding the number of driving hours permitted
- Pressure to deliver the load
- Ignoring federal driving regulations
All drivers, primarily commercial drivers, should recognize the signs of fatigue and address them early because they spend many hours behind the wheel.
How to Recover from Driving Fatigue
Commercial drivers should treat fatigue proactively and learn to pay attention to warnings from their bodies. If their time off is restless and they do not feel energized, they should not allow themselves to drive the allotted time, but instead break their 11 hours up into a four-hour drive with a three-hour nap, followed by seven hours.
How to avoid and recover from fatigue:
- Get enough sleep (seven to nine hours each day) – if fatigue persists after adequate rest, get screened for health problems that may be affecting your sleep
- Watch yourself for signs of fatigue
- Plan your activities outside work to allow enough time for adequate sleep
- Create a sleeping environment that helps you sleep well: a dark, quiet, cool room with no electronics
- Remember, there is no cure for fatigue except for rest
Other factors can affect fatigue, such as when a driver chooses to drive and rest. A study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) found that driver alertness was related to “time-of-day” more so than “time-on-task.” Most people are less alert at night, after midnight. Being on the road for an extended time may enhance drowsiness.
Rules of Service Hours
To cut down on truck driver fatigue-related incidents, The federal motor carrier safety administration established the hours-of-service (HOS) regulations regarding how many hours on duty and behind-the-wheel truck drivers are allowed before they have to rest. Although the federal government has hours of service regulations for interstate travel, states may include additional rules for commercial trucks traveling intrastate.
Ohio has adopted a few additional regulations from the Federal hours of service rules. A driver in Ohio transporting construction materials intrastate is allowed to drive for 12 hours instead of 10 hours following eight consecutive hours off duty.
Meanwhile, the federal government requires the following:
Property-carrying commercial drivers may drive 11 hours after ten consecutive hours off duty.
May not drive beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty, following ten consecutive hours off duty. Off-duty time does not extend the 14 hours.
May not drive after 60/70 hours on duty in seven to eight consecutive days. A driver may restart a seven to eight consecutive day period after taking 34 or more consecutive hours off duty.
Electronic Logging Devices
An electronic logging device (ELD) is a piece of equipment the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requires commercial vehicles to use to capture and record information related to driving and rest times. The device is connected to the truck’s onboard diagnostics to record data from the engine, location, speed, miles driven, and much more.
The ELD records the service hours and stores the information in case it is needed later. The devices are equipped with built-in GPS tracking, gyroscopes, and accelerometers; the best ELDs can record:
- Diagnostics and fault codes
- Drive time, HOS, and record of duty status for ELD compliance
- Real-time GPS location
- Engine speed and load
- Safety-related events such as rough braking or crashes
Motor carriers and truck drivers must store the information in the ELDs for six months. As a precaution, the data is backed up at an alternate location, so it is available in case of an accident.
According to the FMCSA, a motor carrier must retain drivers’ records of duty status (RODS) and supporting documents for six months. 395.8(k). Additionally, a back-copy of the ELD records must be maintained on a device separate from that where original data are stored for six months. 395.22(i).
Liability in Ohio
How is liability assigned in Ohio if a commercial truck driver causes an accident and you are injured? In a commercial truck accident, there can be multiple liable parties depending on the cause of the accident. For example, if the driver had been overworked and not adhering to Hours-of-Service guidelines because his employer was rushing him to deliver a load, they could be at fault for encouraging their driver to work outside his allotted time. If a malfunctioning part contributed to the accident, this could put the liability on the manufacturer of the part.
Hiring an experienced attorney is essential in a commercial truck accident because your lawyer will review the case and assess what other parties may be liable to ensure you are compensated for your pain and injuries. Truck accidents can cause catastrophic injuries and may even end in fatalities.
Contact an Attorney for Legal Guidance After an Incident Involving Trucker Fatigue
If you or a loved one has been involved in a truck accident in Ohio, contact the personal injury attorneys at Charles Boyk Law Offices. Remember, the statute of limitations for filing a truck accident lawsuit in Ohio presents a time restriction for pursuing justice. Call soon so we can begin working for you.