Truck driver fatigue threatens public safety

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Regardless of the vehicles they use, drowsy drivers pose a major threat on Wisconsin roads and highways. However, while any motor vehicle can quickly become a deadly weapon if the driver nods off behind the wheel, some have an even higher capacity for harm than others. In particular, semi-trailers and other large trucks can do catastrophic damage when a driver drifts off.

A semi-truck can weigh up to 40 tons, which is about 16 times as much as the average passenger vehicle. The sheer size difference alone means that collisions between semis and cars are likely to have devastating consequences for the occupants of any passenger vehicles involved. In addition, because of the way that semis are designed, it is relatively easy for a car or other small vehicle to travel underneath the truck in the event of a crash. When this happens, severe injuries and fatalities are even more likely.

Unfortunately, because professional truck drivers spend a great deal more time behind the wheel than the average person, and are often under intense financial pressure to reach their destinations on time, fatigue is a very real issue for many truckers. In a 2012 survey by the National Sleep Foundation, 44 percent of commercial truck drivers said they rarely get enough sleep. About one in six admitted to experiencing a “near miss” on the road due to sleepiness.

Federal rules limit on-duty hours for truck drivers

To help prevent fatigue-related truck accidents, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has established a set of rules that limit the number of on-duty hours that truck drivers may serve in any given period. The previously existing Hours of Service rules were recently strengthened to help ensure that truck drivers are adequately rested.

The Hours of Service regulations have three main parts:

  • 14-hour duty limit. A commercial truck driver may work no more than 14 consecutive hours after being off duty for at least 10 hours. The 14-hour limit applies to any kind of work and is not limited to driving. Once the limit is met, the driver may not continue working until after he or he has spent another 10 hours off duty.
  • 11-hour driving limit. During each 14-hour period described above, a truck driver may spend a maximum of 11 hours driving. After 11 hours of driving, the driver must be off duty for at least 10 hours before he or she may drive again.
  • 60-hour/seven-day limit and 70-hour/eight-day limit. In addition to the short-term limits described above, truck drivers are also subject to long-term limits that correspond to rolling periods of seven or eight days. Truck drivers for companies that drive every day of the week are limited to 70 hours of driving in any eight-day period. Truckers employed by companies that do not operate vehicles every day of the week may drive for no more than 60 hours in any seven-day period.

If you have been injured in a truck accident or suffered the loss of a loved one due to drowsy driving, you may be able to receive compensation for the financial losses you have sustained as a result of the crash. To learn more about pursuing compensation after a truck accident, contact a knowledgeable personal injury lawyer in your area.

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