Most truck drivers are good at their jobs and operate their vehicles responsibly. However, almost 4,000 people die as the result of large truck accidents each year, and the primary cause is driver fatigue. In an ongoing effort to improve highway safety, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulates the number of hours truck drivers spend behind the wheel.
Long hours, bad results
Because of long work hours and insufficient recovery time, truckers are prone to reduced sleep, which produces chronic fatigue. As a result, drivers experience slower reaction times, and their ability to assess situations quickly is hampered. Fatigue is insidious. There are warning signs, such as yawning or repeated blinking, but drowsiness can sneak up on a driver. Before he or she realizes what is happening, the truck may begin to drift between lanes or off the side of the road.
Hours of service rules
In 2011, the FMCSA made two changes to what is known as the “hours of service” regulations for truck drivers. First, drivers must take a 30-minute break within the first eight hours of their shift. Second, the 34-hour rest period truckers call the “restart” can only be used once every seven days and must include two periods of rest between 1:00 and 5:00 a.m. The idea is to make it easier for truck drivers to rest, relax and catch up on their sleep after a long week of work.
Major stress factors
Research shows that three major stress factors contribute to fatigue: physical, such as constant truck vibration; physiological, which includes use of drugs or alcohol along with insufficient sleep; and psychological, feelings like anger and frustration.
Curbing potential fatigue
While regulations are instituted to assist in reducing driver fatigue, a few lifestyle changes can also help. Examples include:
- Eating a well-balanced diet that features the major food groups
- Exercising regularly to help build stamina
- Reducing excess weight
- Dropping the smoking habit
- Avoiding alcohol
- Cutting back on caffeine
When truck drivers become victims
Motorists are just as prone to fatigue as truck drivers. Crashes occur most often between midnight and 6:00 a.m. and in the late afternoon. Why? Because it is at these times that the circadian rhythm responsible for regulating sleep in the human body takes a dip. Drivers become drowsy and crashes result. Many car-truck accidents are caused by the driver of the car, not the trucker. In any case, serious injuries can result, and the next step is to reach out to an experienced personal injury attorney for legal advice.