Drowsy driving is a leading cause of crashes across the country for all vehicles. But sleepiness and fatigue are believed to cause a disproportionate share of accidents in long-haul trucking, with more truck drivers than ever falling asleep at the wheel.
Long Hours Cause Truck Driver Fatigue, Sleepiness
It’s certainly easy to see why. Several years ago, the number of hours truckers could spend driving in a week was reduced to 70 hours from the previous 82. Yet 70 hours is an extremely long time to spend driving a vehicle in a week. Drivers are restricted to 11-hour days, yet that, too, is an extremely long day spent behind a wheel.
Not only are the hours long, but there is considerable pressure to make them even longer. The trucking industry lobbied hard against reducing the number of hours. Privately, many truckers say that drivers are pressured to work longer hours. Time, after all, is literally money in moving products across the country. Time spent sleeping is unproductive time.
Independent truckers may not feel they can resist pressure to work longer hours. They must establish good relationships with companies and dispatchers to be given work at all. Those relationships may become strained if the truckers do not deliver when the companies need it.
As a result, drivers may be sleepy or fatigued at the wheel. Sleep deprivation and fatigue are known to decrease reaction times, assessment and awareness of potential dangers, and cloud judgement. All of these factors can lead to accidents that imperil the lives of the drivers, people in other vehicles, and bystanders.
Up to 30% of Fatal Trucking Accidents Caused by Fatigue
Statistics on the number of trucking accidents caused by drowsy driving are hard to come by. Although each trucking accident is investigated by the U.S. government, it isn’t always possible to determine fully what caused the crash. If the driver dies, there is no way to check for sleep deprivation, as there is for, say, alcohol intoxication. If the driver lives and is questioned, he may feel he has to protect his livelihood, and may not mention drowsiness as a cause.
However, some studies have shown that the impact of drowsy driving on trucking safety is very high. One study determined that an estimated 31% of truck crashes in which a driver died were caused by driver fatigue. Other studies have put the figure lower, but even 13% or 7% mean too many people are dying due to driver fatigue.
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Additional “Truck Driver Fatigue” Resources:
- McAuliff, Michael. “Trucks Are Getting More Dangerous and Drivers Are Falling Asleep at the Wheel. Thank Congress.” Huffington Post. April 16, 2016. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/congress-made-trucking-deadlier_us_56fd6f92e4b0a06d58052ee8
- Mouawad, Jad and Elizabeth A. Harris. “Truckers Resist Rules on Sleep, Despite Risks of Drowsy Driving.” New York Times. April 16, 2014. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/congress-made-trucking-deadlier_us_56fd6f92e4b0a06d58052ee8