Truck drivers are responsible for not only their own safety on the road, but also the safety of those with whom they share the road. While this is true for all drivers, the size and weight of 18 wheelers makes safety particularly important.
Fortunately, many of the factors that cause truck accidents are within a truck driver’s control. Continue reading for the most common forms of truck driver negligence.
Prescription and Over-the-Counter Drugs
Did you know the biggest threat to our safety from big trucks on the road is drug use?
More dangerous than even fatigue, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
(FMCSA) found that in accidents caused by driver error, 44% of them involved a
trucker’s use of prescription or over-the-counter medications (OTC).
All drugs, whether they are prescription or OTC, have side effects. Blurred vision,
dizziness, confusion, drowsiness are all common side effects that are also the ones that
are most dangerous on the road. Federal regulations try to minimize drug use in truckers,
but they are not always effective.
Federal regulations utilize medical certificates to try and keep tabs on truck driver health,
but unfortunately it easy all too easy for truck drivers in poor health to obtain a
certificate. Through the practice of “doctor shopping,” if a trucker encounters one doctor
who isn’t willing to give him a clean bill of health, a trucker can simply seek out another.
Any medical practitioner from a nurse to a chiropractor can set up shop and dole out
clean bills of health. These little stations are often set up at stops that are convenient for
Truckers unfortunately struggle with stressful days and unhealthy habits. They are on the
road for sometimes 12 hours at a time. Behind the wheel, junk food often keeps them
awake. With odd sleep and wake times, sleep apnea often plagues truckers as well. All
of these factors combine to create diabetes, sleep disorders, and obesity. When truckers
turn to medications for relief, our roads become a bit more dangerous.
There are too many truck drivers on the road that are in poor health, or who are under the
influence of prescription and OTC drugs that create extremely hazardous driving
conditions. The consequences are disturbingly severe.
Truck drivers face strict regulations when it comes to alcohol, but getting around these
regulations and tests is still a problem. There are two main ways truckers and alcohol are
- Drivers with a Commercial Driver’s License can be charged with a DUI with a
blood alcohol level of .04, and
- The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration does not allow truck drivers to
have had alcohol four hours prior to the beginning of their shifts.
While these may sound like adequate measures to keep truck drivers from using alcohol,
these rules are too easily manipulated. Because truck stops where there will be alcohol
testing are known, truckers can easily adjust and manipulate their habits to appear clean.
It is also surprisingly easy to fake test results. From using fake identification to send
someone else into the test, to using synthetic urine or clean-urine kits off the internet,
there are plenty of ways around these tests.
And while some trucking companies are implementing stricter tests that are harder to
dupe, these tests (such as hair testing) have not yet become industry standards, and an
individual who fails a test at one company can easily go to a less strict company and
appear to be clean. In an industry that has an annual driver turnaround of 70 – 90%,
stricter industry standards are desperately needed.
Anyone who has ever been behind the wheel knows exactly what it feels like to have
your attention pulled in numerous different directions. You might be particularly tired
one day, and struggle to keep your eyes open on your commute to work. Or your boss or
kids might be calling you on your phone, peppering you with problems. Whatever it may
be, even an hour long commute can pose a myriad of distractions to even the most
Now imagine that you are on the road for not one hour but 11, and you are not driving a
4-door car, but an 80,000 pound truck. Now you can begin to see how vulnerable truck
drivers are to distractions behind the wheel. And if a truck driver is distracted, he not
only puts himself in danger, but all his fellow drivers on the road as well.
According to the FMCSA, a distraction occurs “any time a driver diverts his/her attention
from the driving task.” Distraction can take a variety of forms: eating while driving,
talking or texting on a cell phone, smoking, or adjusting the radio.
Cell phones are particularly dangerous since they involve almost all of the senses: they
require a driver to avert his eyes, to listen, to manually operate the phone, and to mentally
disengage from the act of driving.
Unfamiliarity with the route is another distraction that truck drivers must grapple with.
Truck drivers from new city to new city, and unless he has planned and familiarized
himself with his route, he will find his attention split between driving and trying to find
his way. When driving a massive vehicle, this is very dangerous. Because of its size,
driving a truck requires quick reflexes, and if a truck driver isn’t focused on the road
100%, he may not respond to road hazards in time.
The FMCSA’s Large Truck Crash Causation Study revealed that 10% of truck crashes
occur as a result of distraction. Another study estimates that the numbers are actually
much higher, and that 80% of truck crashes had driver distraction as a contributing cause.
It is not surprising that fatigue is such a major problems for long distance drivers. Even
though truck drivers make their livings behind the wheel, they are still susceptible to the
same mental and physical effects of being on the road as the rest of us.
There are two times of day that truck drivers are particularly susceptible to exhaustion
and fatigue: after they have been on the road for hours on end, and when they first get
back on the road after a rest break. At both of these times, a truck driver must be extra
vigilant about staying focused on the road and not letting fatigue disrupt that focus.
Fatigue is no laughing matter. The effects of fatigue can be just as serious as drinking
alcohol and getting behind the wheel. Just as with drinking and driving, fatigue can
affect a driver’s response time, memory, attention, mood, and judgment. Being awake
for 18 hours is equivalent to having a blood alcohol level of .08, which is double the level
that is considered to be legally intoxicated for truck drivers.
In order to minimize the occurrences of fatigued driving, federal regulations have been
put in place to limit the number of hours a commercial truck driver can be on the road.
These hours of service regulations impose three maximum duty limits that must be
followed at all times:
- A driver may be on-duty for 14 consecutive hours if he has been off-duty for 10
or more consecutive hours. Naps or breaks count towards the 14 consecutive
- During the 14 consecutive hours that a driver can be on-duty, a driver is only
allowed to be driving for 11 total hours.
- There are also limits on how many hours a driver can be on-duty in a 7 or 8-day
period. A driver can not drive after being on duty for 60 hours in 7 consecutive
days, and 70 hours in 8 consecutive days.
Whether it is the driver himself that is pushing to drive long hours or the employer that is
pressuring him to do so, these regulations aim to take such decisions out of the equation
by providing regulations that must be followed. Everyone on the road is made safer
when drivers are well-rested.
If you were involved in an accident with a truck driver, an attorney can take the necessary
steps to secure the information needed to prove driver fatigue. This can be done by
checking the company’s hours of service log, but you must contact an attorney as soon as
you can. These logs are often deleted after a certain amount of time has passed. Your
attorney might also be able to find useful evidence by checking a driver’s trip tickets or
bills of lading (documents that accompany deliveries). This evidence can lead to
establishment of driver liability as well as the company’s negligence.
Contact an attorney at Kirkendall Dwyer LLP today.