fatigued truck driver
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By Royce Nunley

Commercial trucking accidents are almost always life-changing. These massive vehicles have a tremendous crash force that can leave both automobiles totally destroyed and humans with extremely serious injuries. Fatalities might even be the result. In 2014, popular actor and comedian Tracy Morgan was involved in a devastating collision that changed his life, killed his friend, and injured two other passengers as well. While traveling on a New Jersey turnpike, his limousine was struck by a Walmart truck resulting in several broken bones and a traumatic brain injury. At the time the truck accident occurred, it was determined that Walmart’s truck driver had not slept in over 24 hours.

Although Morgan’s lawsuit was resolved quickly, the larger problem is that truck drivers are overworked, under-trained, and given incentives to drive long hours at high speeds. Unfortunately, with so many large trucks on the roads driving long hours and distances, it increases their chances of getting into an accident. A truck driver who is drowsy may drift in and out of consciousness, and may also experience delayed reaction times and impaired judgment. Fatigue may cause a driver to fail to recognize dangerous situations, or to make poor decisions when operating a truck, leading to avoidable crashes.

Statistics on Results of Truck Driver Fatigue

In fact, researchers have found that commercial truck drivers often are sleep-deprived and do not get enough rest to remain alert on the job. Statistics relevant to truck driver fatigue include:

  • According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), driver fatigue is a factor in around 13% of all large truck crashes in the U.S.
  • A study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that driver fatigue contributed to 31% of fatal crashes involving large trucks
  • A survey by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) found that 65% of truck drivers reported feeling fatigued while driving, and 13% reported falling asleep at the wheel at the time the study was conducted

Federal Regulations Put In Place To Combat Fatigue Experienced by Truck Drivers.

On July 1, 2013, the FMCSA announced new Hours of Service (HOS) regulations in order to reduce driver fatigue and improve safety. These truck driver fatigue laws govern how long commercial truck drivers can drive each day and week. A brief review of the new Hours of Service (HOS) regulations that were enacted are as follows:

  • There is a  14-hour rule that is a required cap that prevents freight drivers from driving (or, more specifically, working) after the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty until they take 10 consecutive hours off duty.
  • The maximum average work week for truck drivers shall be reduced from 82 hours per week to 70 hours per week.
  • Truck drivers who reach the maximum 70 hours of driving within a week must rest for 34 consecutive hours (known as the “34-hour restart” rule), including at least 2 nights from 1-5 a.m.
  • Truck drivers must take a 30-minute break during the first 8 hours of a shift.

There are more detailed requirements contained in the Federal HOS regulations as well. There are other laws as well that govern truck driver fatigue. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) require carriers to establish and enforce fatigue management programs, and to provide drivers with adequate rest breaks and time off duty. Non-compliance with these regulations and laws can result in penalties, fines, and even the revocation of the driver’s operating authority. Drivers and carriers must understand and comply with HOS regulations and laws to promote safety on the road and avoid legal and financial consequences.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) website provides detailed information about Hours of Service (HOS) regulations, Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs), and other rules related to truck driver fatigue. Note that if you were injured in a trucking accident, the ELD can be a crucial piece of evidence to establish driver fatigue as the cause of the accident.

Efforts to diminish the hazards of driver fatigue are continually met with political resistance. Congress signed a spending bill (H.R. 2577) that, among other provisions, suspends the FMCSA’s “34-hour restart rule” outlined above for the second time. Under Congress’s suspension, the rule would only be reinstated if a federal impact study can prove that the provision would result in improvements in safety, operator fatigue, driver health and longevity, and work schedules. On June 1, 2015, President Obama released a statement that the administration “strongly opposes” the passage of H.R. 2577. Competing political and economic interests are at play here which have caused this back and forth with the regulations. Most recently, the 34-hour reset is not mandatory. As long as drivers comply with the other regulations, such as the 11-hour rule, 14-hour rule, and 70-hour rule, they are not required to take 34 hours off at any time.

Accidents Due To Truck Driver Fatigue in Michigan

It is likely that truck accidents due to driver fatigue in Detroit follow similar trends. The nature of semi-truck accidents in Detroit and around Michigan are violent and fatal as well as the national statistics due to the size and weight of the trucks involved compared to smaller vehicles. Some trucks can carry loads weighing up to 80,000 pounds. Therefore, the damage and injuries resulting from a truck-related accident in MIchigan can be devastating. 

Remember that the best way to prevent accidents due to driver fatigue is for drivers to get adequate rest, take regular breaks, and not to exceed their hours-of-service limits. If the driver has not complied with the HOS regulations and injury has resulted, experienced personal injury attorneys can help to review the particular company’s guidelines, as well as the ELD to determine whether the driver in question exceeded the required guidelines, or whether the trucking company or driver was negligent. 

If the trucking company was the one who placed pressure on their drivers to ignore the hours of service rules, it may be established that the accident was also the fault of the company that hired the driver. Keep in mind that it’s important to consult with a personal injury attorney to make sure your case is presented in the best manner possible. 

Nunley Law Group PLLC can explain the specific regulations concerning commercial truck drivers in the Michigan area to help navigate your personal injury case and represent you with our personalized service. Contact our office today to book a free consultation.

About the Author
Royce Nunley practices in the areas of Family Law, Criminal Law, Social Security, and Personal Injury law. Royce graduated Cum Laude from Wayne State University with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish. He continued his education at Wayne Law, where he received his Juris Doctorate Cum Laude. Named to Superlawyer’s “rising stars” in 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2022 for his work in Family Law.