Drowsy driving – to say nothing of falling asleep at the wheel – is the cause of thousands of auto accidents each year.
With this in mind, in 2013, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) enacted a rule requiring operators of commercial vehicles to take a 30-minute break within their first eight hours of duty each day. As expected, there were – and still are – rumblings within the trucking industry. Simply put, not everyone is happy with the rule, which aims to reduce the number of drowsy truck drivers.
The Yeas and Nays
Last year, The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) filed a petition to rescind the 30-minute break requirement. There are, the Alliance says, several reasons for doing so: it is difficult to enforce; it serves as a temptation for long-haul truckers to falsify logs; it makes little difference in highway safety. And anyway, the Alliance says, police and authorities have no way to verify that truckers are actually taking their breaks.
Nevertheless, last month the FMCSA denied the petition, and the 30-minute-break rule stands. The agency contends that there is no valid basis to CVSA’s contentions. In fact, the number of citations given during roadside inspections seems to belie the claim that it is difficult to enforce. And even if this were true, it does not nullify the resulting safety benefits. Data culled from 2013-2015 support the ruling: from 2013 to 2014, the number of truck-involved fatal crashes dropped by six percent.
The (Very) Hard Facts About Drowsy Truck Drivers
Drowsiness results in impaired judgment, slower reaction time, decreased visual acuity, and even hallucinations. Studies show that drowsy truck driver who have been awake for 17 or more hours can make the same driving mistakes as a person with a BAC of 0.5. Put that driver behind the wheel of a fully loaded, 80,000-pound tractor trailer, and the results could be – and too often are – catastrophic.
In fact, although traffic fatalities involving large trucks on U.S. roads have decreased over the last two decades, the average number of annual deaths still hovers around 4,300. And a third of those tragedies were the result of truckers falling asleep at the wheel. However, during that same time period, the truck involvement rate in crashes resulting in injuries increased by over 20 percent.
Trucking businesses and independent truckers would do well to carefully observe the 30-minute-break rule, as violations resulting in accidents could result in legal action. A competent attorney can build a strong case for an accident victim if it is found that the cause was a drowsy truck driver who spent too many hours behind the wheel.