WHAT CAUSES TRACTOR TRAILER ACCIDENTS: DRIVER FATIGUE
Semi Truck Accidents and Driver Fatigue
According to recent figures from the U.S. Department of Transportation, each year around 500,000 truck accidents occur in the United States, and approximately 5,000 of these accidents result in fatalities. One out of every eight traffic fatality involves a semi truck collision. We all know that truck drivers drive long hours and are under tremendous pressure to meet strenuous deadlines. These unrelenting pressures often result in dangerous driver fatigue. Driver fatigue is the highest causes of truck accidents. In 1939, the federal government mandated an “hours of service” rule and attempted to limit the number of hours that any truck, driven by a single operator, can continuously be out on the road. The most current version of this restriction now allows a truck driver to drive for a maximum of no more than 11 continuous hours, in a 14 hour work day. After this period, drivers are required to take a minimum 10 hour mandatory rest period before getting back behind the wheel and on the road again. 11 straight hours is still a very long time to be driving in any single day. But when you do the math, a truck can still be driven between 70-88 hours during any 8 day period. And by the way, companies and drivers only make money when those big wheels are turning at highway speeds. So there is no let up. It’s a new day. Every day. And this is how bad things can happen.
Driving a vehicle for long distances and/or for long periods of time is exhausting both physically and mentally. And that is if you do it sporadically. For long haul truck drivers who do this day after day, week after week for a living, “driver fatigue” only gets worse over time. Current federal regulations mandate drivers are only allowed to drive so many hours per day or week, but these numbers have been negotiated with large truck driving company lobbyists. As a result, many experts feel these allowance are too high and still represent great danger to the driving public. In the South Carolina Commercial Drivers License (CDL) Manual, there is an entire section devoted to “Staying Alert and Fit to Drive.” In that portion, it is stressed that drivers should “get enough sleep (at least 7-8 hours of sleep every 24 hours) before leaving on a long trip. The manual also encourages drivers to drive during those hours when they are “normally awake.” For example, many accidents occur between midnight and 6 a.m. If you are already tired, you can easily fall asleep and be involved in a serious accident. It is strongly discouraged to try and “push on” or “finish” a long trip under these circumstances. It is better to “pull over” and live than try to continue on and risk a deadly trucking accident.
Other suggestions for dealing with driver fatigue include keeping the cab cool by opening a vent or using the air conditioner (“if you have one”), avoiding medications which can cause drowsiness, taking regular breaks to “walk around and inspect your vehicle”, and even stopping regularly to sleep or take naps. The manual specifically warns that “sleep is the only thing that will work” when your body is tired. So many drivers attempt to “keep going” with coffee, over the counter “alert” products, and even prescription and illegal drugs. Such measures may last for a short while, but when they “wear off,” the effects end quickly and unpredictably. That is when really bad things happen. Long haul drivers are put under tremendous pressure by trucking companies to “get the load delivered” without seeming concern for how it is accomplished. And, if a driver owns his own rig, he/she is only making money “when the wheels are turning.” Tragically, when companies or individual drivers push themselves beyond their bodies’ physiological limits, serious and fatal accidents occur. Of course, it is not an “accident” when drivers “choose” to take dangerous chances with their own safety. And sadly, it is innocent families that pay the ultimate price for their carelessness.
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