Fatigue is known to be one of the main causes of truck accidents today, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association (FMCSA). When truck drivers push their physical limits and become fatigued, truck accident lawyers know that a driver's ability to react and make sound decisions becomes severely compromised. Because of the number of trucking accidents related to driver fatigue, Hours of Service (HOS) laws continue to become more strict to allow drivers enough time to sleep.
The inclusion of a 34-Hour Restart Rule has sparked much controversy in the trucking industry; however, it is not the only sleep concern that safety advocates are observing.
Sleep And The Causes of Truck Accidents
Every year in the U.S., there are thousands of fatalities caused by trucking accidents, with those numbers currently approaching 4,000 per year. As many as 20 percent of those fatal accidents and many more non-fatal accidents have been related to driver fatigue. Quite simply, safety advocates and truck accident lawyers stress that America’s truck drivers are just not getting enough sleep. It is a trend that is becoming more widespread as schedules become busier and deadlines become tighter.
HOS Laws and the 34-Hour Restart Rule
To combat the issue of driver fatigue, the FMCSA and Congress voted in 2013 for tighter Hours of Sleep or HOS laws that restrict daily driver hours and include a mandatory 34-hour break; it is called the 34-Hour Restart rule. This 34-hour break would ensure that drivers receive two consecutive overnight rest periods, as science has demonstrated that humans get more restful sleep at night. Side effects of this rule in the form of interrupted driver schedules and more trucks on the road during rush hour have become a major controversy. As a result, the rule is now in temporary suspension, which means there is no mandatory, two-night rest break for drivers unless they choose to observe it on their own.
Sleep Apnea and Quality of Sleep
Besides the issue of the 34-Hour Restart, health issues like sleep apnea have also been a major concern in the trucking industry. Sleep apnea is known to drastically reduce the quality of sleep a person gets, which directly relates to their levels of fatigue. Many truck drivers suffer from sleep apnea and other medical conditions, putting them at risk for elevated levels of fatigue and the truck accidents that can occur as a result.
Sleep Compliance and Time Off
Yet another issue that adds to the number of trucking accidents is simple driver compliance with getting enough sleep. Even though there are HOS rules in place that limit driving hours, these rules cannot force a driver to spend their off-hours sleeping. It is up to the driver to ensure they get enough sleep and not be fatigued while driving. Therefore, the lack of driver compliance with their own sleep schedules is an additional factor related to sleep deficits, which is why a driver could become fatigued enough to cause a trucking accident.
When considering all of these different factors, it is apparent to truck accident lawyers and safety organizations that lack of sleep is a main component in the fight to reduce truck accidents. Unfortunately, it is an issue with no easy solution since a large part of the problem is driver compliance to avoid getting too little sleep. In the meantime, the FMCSA continues to try and determine how to improve HOS laws and how to revamp the 34-Hour Restart Rule so that it provides greater safety with fewer arguments in the trucking industry!
Hildebrand & Wilson, LLP
Robert W. Hildebrand, Attorney at Law
J. Daniel Wilson, Attorney at Law
7830 Broadway, Suite 122
Pearland TX 77581
Phone: (281) 408-2190