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Fatigue an Occupational Hazard for Truck Drivers, Part 1

Truck driver fatigue has been in the news recently because of the truck accident that seriously injured comedian Tracy Morgan on the New Jersey Turnpike 45 miles south of New York City. The trucker admitted that he had had no sleep for the 24 hours before the accident. Amazingly, accidents like this happen all the time, and federal regulators have tried to enact rules that limit the number of hours a driver can work before taking a required rest.

It makes sense. However, trucking companies and drivers have pushed back, arguing that government should not be in the business of regulating sleep.

Driver fatigue is a leading cause of truck crashes and fatalities, according to federal authorities. In this month alone, driver fatigue has been reported as the cause of accidents in Ohio, Texas and Illinois as well as the recent New Jersey accident.

Last year the federal government tried again, reducing the maximum workweek for truckers from 80 hours to 72 hours. Drivers who reach 72 hours must rest for 34 hours before they can drive again. They cannot drive more than 11 a day and must have at least on rest break in their schedules. They are also restricted to a limited number of hours per week driving between 1 AM and 5 PM.

Unfortunately for the rest of us, the trucking industry has been fighting to get the night driving rules changed. One senator, Susan Collins (R-Maine_ said that limiting night-time driving would put more trucks on the road during the day, when more passenger vehicles are on the road. Truck company executives said that drivers needed more flexibility and that the new night-time restrictions have reduced productivity.

It makes sense. However, trucking companies and drivers have pushed back, arguing that government should not be in the business of regulating sleep.

Driver fatigue is a leading cause of truck crashes and fatalities, according to federal authorities. In this month alone, driver fatigue has been reported as the cause of accidents in Ohio, Texas and Illinois as well as the recent New Jersey accident.

Last year the federal government tried again, reducing the maximum workweek for truckers from 80 hours to 72 hours. Drivers who reach 72 hours must rest for 34 hours before they can drive again. They cannot drive more than 11 a day and must have at least on rest break in their schedules. They are also restricted to a limited number of hours per week driving between 1 AM and 5 PM.

Unfortunately for the rest of us, the trucking industry has been fighting to get the night driving rules changed. One senator, Susan Collins (R-Maine_ said that limiting night-time driving would put more trucks on the road during the day, when more passenger vehicles are on the road. Truck company executives said that drivers needed more flexibility and that the new night-time restrictions have reduced productivity.

Serious motor vehicle accidents were steadily declining for many years, but in recent years the numbers have risen again. This is especially true of crashes involving big trucks.

Safety advocates say that Senator Collins' amendment would result in more serious truck accidents. And a representative of the Teamsters union, which represents many truck drivers, says that fatigue is underreported at accident scenes and that the proposed legislation would be roll back efforts to improve safety in truck driving.

This is the first in a two-part blog post on trucking safety and accident prevention.

Serious motor vehicle accidents were steadily declining for many years, but in recent years the numbers have risen again. This is especially true of crashes involving big trucks.

Safety advocates say that Senator Collins' amendment would result in more serious truck accidents. And a representative of the Teamsters union, which represents many truck drivers, says that fatigue is underreported at accident scenes and that the proposed legislation would be roll back efforts to improve safety in truck driving.

This is the first in a two-part blog post on trucking safety and accident prevention.

Source: New York Times, "Truckers Resist Rules on Sleep, Despite Risks of Drowsy Driving," Jun. 16, 2014.