The Darker Side of Trucking – Part 2
In our first blog examining the U.S. trucking industry, we discussed the requirements for a commercial driver’s license. Now, we’ll see how truckers can lose their licenses—and how many truck crashes occur.
Tenge Law Firm, LLC, has seen the aftermath of numerous crashes in Colorado. We know these claims cannot be handled like a regular car accidents. If you would like a free consultation with a Boulder truck accident attorney, please call (303) 665-2929.
National Trucking Statistics
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), there were 119,000 injury crashes and 4,440 fatal crashes for large trucks and buses in 2016. The top contributing factors to these crashes? On the truck drivers’ end, they were (in order):
- Speeding of any kind
- Distractions (cell phone use, lost in thought, eating, etc.)
- Failure to yield right-of-way
- Impairment (fatigue, alcohol or drugs, illness, etc.)
- Vision obscured by weather
- Careless driving
- Failure to keep inside the lane
- Failure to obey traffic signs or laws
- Following too closely
We note that in Colorado, distractions accounted for 28% of all crashes in 2016—the biggest known contributing factor across the state. Clearly, distractions are a problem for semi-truck drivers, but they’re not the only ones. Between substance abuse, chronic fatigue, their unhealthy lifestyles, and the pressure to move shipments faster to make a profit, the real wonder is that there aren’t more truck crashes.
After receiving a commercial driver’s license, truckers are held to higher standard for traffic violations, including DUIs. FCMSA requires a reading below .04% blood alcohol content for all commercial drivers on the road. No exceptions. A violation is subject to disqualification sanctions from the federal government, which the trucker must then report to the state agency and his employer.
Some truckers rely on stimulants to keep going after a long shift, and quickly realize caffeine is not enough. Drug use was a factor in at least 47 large truck crashes in 2016, and since testing is rarely conducted at the scene, the number is likely much higher.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration sets Hours of Service rules for all truck drivers to follow. They are:
- 11 hours is the maximum driving shift, only allowed after 10 consecutive hours off duty;
- 14 hours is the maximum driving shift combined with other on-duty work, after 10 consecutive hours off duty;
- 8 hours or less must have passed since the end of the driver’s last off-duty or sleeper-berth period of at least 30 minutes before any driving;
- After 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days, no more driving;
- 34 or more consecutive hours off duty must be taken before working another 7/8 consecutive days.
Drivers regularly ignore these rules and work longer hours, and they are encouraged to do so by their employers.
Estimates vary on the number of accidents caused by driver fatigue. According to a DOT 2006 study, sleep was a factor for 4% of all truckers involved in a two-car collision and 13% of single-vehicle collisions. However, past studies suggest fatigue may be a contributing factor in at least 30% to 40% of large truck crashes (Robson Forensics).
The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that long-haul delivery drivers have a higher risk of injury, illness, and death on the job. But they are still allowed to operate 26,000+-pound vehicles in spite of health conditions or disabilities; such as epilepsy, diabetes, vision or hearing loss, or missing and impaired limbs.
The Department of Transportation requires truck drivers to get a physical examination at least every two years. If the driver doesn’t meet the minimum physical standards to safely operate a commercial motor vehicle, he can apply for a medical variance—an exemption to these standards allowing him to drive. This “V” restriction goes on the commercial driver’s license, and a copy of the medical certificate must be kept on file with the state licensing agency.
Burnout isn’t the same as fatigue. According to retired trucker on Smart-Trucking, burnout is bordering on a complete mental breakdown. The trucker will:
- Start thinking irrational thoughts.
- Let his mind wander while driving.
- Consider abandoning the rig.
- Have crying fits.
- Think suicidal thoughts.
Though things have improved in the unregulated decades since the 1970s, a Los Angeles Times opinion piece found, “Truckers don’t work without sleep for dangerously long stretches (as many acknowledge having done) because it’s fun. They do it because they have to earn a living. The market demands a pace of work that many drivers say is impossible to meet if they’re ‘driving legal.’
“…Trucking firms today operate on razor-thin margins in a highly competitive industry, and many of them, according to the truckers I’ve interviewed, put tremendous pressure on their employees to break the law by staying on the road too long. Federal safety rules are frequently ignored in service of on-time delivery to the customer.”
Change must come at an industry level.
Who’s to Blame for a Bad Truck Driver in Colorado?
Colorado itself determines the commercial driver’s license application process, fee, renewal procedures, and reinstatement requirements after a disqualification. Also, if the State of Colorado hires a private company to provide commercial vehicle services, and assigns their driving tasks, the State would be considered the truckers’ employer.
If the company assigns and monitors the operation of the commercial vehicles, the company is the employer—and an employer may be held liable for mistakes made by the trucker.
Tenge Law Firm, LLC, provides compassionate service for the victims of large truck crashes. We are experienced personal injury and wrongful death lawyers in Boulder who understand a true recovery is not limited to physical healing. We handle every aspect of our clients’ claims: rental cars, disability applications, employment issues, health insurance disputes, credit rating protection, medical bills, and of course, aggressively challenging the trucking insurance company. Please call (303) 665-2929 to schedule a free consultation.
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