Each year, over 30,000 people die on our nation’s highways. Almost 4,000 of those deaths are the result of encounters with big rigs. Since 2011, the U.S. Department of Transportation has taken a keen interest in the role fatigue plays in truck accidents. That was the year Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration — an agency of the DOT — updated its rules regarding the number of hours a trucker can drive without rest.
Everyone operating a large commercial vehicle is required to stop and rest within eight hours of beginning a shift. Additionally, drivers must take a 34-hour “restart” break once every seven days. This restart is intended to allow drivers genuine rest between what are often long weeks of driving. Even with the rules in place, a trucker could potentially drive up to 70 hours a week.
FMCSA feels that most people operating big rigs do not drive that often in a week, but the ones who do experience a deep fatigue that slows their reaction time and impairs their ability to gauge the level of danger in a situation. This capability is crucial when traffic is heavy and conditions can change quickly. An accident taking place under such circumstances can potentially involve multiple vehicles and numerous casualties.
Following the rules for resting is important to public safety because a driver is not always able to judge his or her level of fatigue. Consequently, they may not realize when their driving becomes erratic or unsafe, such as when they drift between lanes or fail to control their speed.
Accidents involving trucks may cause serious injury or death. Too many truck drivers are willing to take that risk. One of the first things an attorney may do when presented with a personal injury case involving a big rig is to inspect the trucking log. Determining the level of fatigue under which the driver was operating may be a strong element in a personal injury claim.