How big of a problem is trucker fatigue?

Truck drivers spend hours behind the wheel cruising across every part of America, from the highways of major cities to the two-lane roads that carve through the rural countryside. No matter where the job takes them, truckers must always be monitoring how rested they are.

A tired driver can put everyone on the road in danger. Inattention, nodding off or poor response time due to fatigue might lead to a crash, and devastating consequences for other drivers. There are federal guidelines in place that limit how long a trucker can be on duty before needing to rest, meant to reduce the risk of crashes due to fatigue. Some people, however, think those rules should be relaxed.

Assessing driver rest rules

The current administration is reportedly moving toward relaxing the current rest guidelines for truck drivers. Supporters, some of them drivers, argue the current policy is too inflexible and forces them to stop even when they don’t need to. In addition, because many truck drivers earn pay by the mile, a shift stuck in bad traffic can quickly eat into their earnings.

The current rest requirements for truck drivers include:

  • A maximum 11 consecutive hours of driving, within a max of 14 hours on duty
  • A 10-hour break once a driver hits either of those marks
  • No more than 70 hours of driving in a week
  • A minimum of 34 hours off duty after reaching that 70-hour limit

These regulations are intended to lower the number of crashes and prevent motorists from being injured or killed as the result of a truck accident. It still happens, however.

Tired truck drivers may put others at risk

The National Transportation Safety Board considers fatigue in the transportation industry a “pervasive” problem. One major study found driver fatigue was a critical factor in 13% of large truck crashes, while minor fatigue was cited as an associated factor in additional accidents. One in four drivers, meanwhile, admitted to falling asleep while driving during the previous month.

And in a well-documented Alabama case, a driver was pressured by his boss to falsely claim he had rested so he could start another shift, when in fact he hadn’t. That driver fell asleep behind the wheel and it led to a serious crash.

Trucker fatigue is a known problem, one that can put many people in danger of suffering a severe injury or even death. What the future holds for truck driver rest rules – and how those changes impact others on the road – remains to be seen.

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