Tractor-Trailer Accidents: The Dangers and Pressures of Long-Haul Truck Driving
The unsung heroes of the supply chain are those big rig drivers we pass on the roads each day, semi-trailer trucks hauling groceries and merchandise to the stores we all shop in. Without those trucks, our entire national economy would collapse. 68% of all goods in the U.S. are delivered by these semi trucks!
And the job of a semi driver is not an easy one. Imagine sitting for hours in the cab of a massive tractor unit towing a 53’ long trailer which creates blind spots and makes it hard to turn. Sometimes your trailer won’t fit on narrow roads or under certain overpasses. The logistical challenges of driving a tractor-trailer truck are never appreciated by those who have never sat in the seat.
How Long Truckers Drive
And we mentioned those long hours, right?
Truck drivers, by the nature of their job, are required to haul for hours on end, and the pressure is on for them to deliver the goods and make a quick turnaround. It’s a never-ending cycle.
Most of the larger outfits treat their drivers well, because they understand the need to treat their employees fairly, they realize the dangers of having worn out truck operators on the road…added to which, they want to avoid any collisions or mishaps that could lead to injuries, deaths…and lawsuits.
They also want to avoid penalties from the Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the agency which handles safety issues involving transportation, and which governs how many hours drivers may drive within set periods of time.
But there are those employers out there who flaunt the rules, who prefer the few extra quick bucks that pushing their drivers can lead to. Some of these outfits pressure their drivers to not only be on time, but to be on time no matter the cost. Indeed some expect their drivers to meet unreasonable deadlines, and if the drivers cannot, they may risk being fired.
For this reason, some drivers, especially perhaps those with limited employment options, are willing to take unnecessary risks in order to keep their jobs. They forego breaks, they exceed speed limits, they sleep less than they should…some even turn to drugs like amphetamines and cocaine in order to stay away and drive longer. Others may turn to over-the-counter stimulants such as caffeine pills or ephedrine, which are obviously not illegal or as harmful, but still shouldn’t be used as a substitute for proper rest.
Preventing Truck Accidents: Regulation of Tractor-Trailer Companies and Truck Drivers
Of course, the FMCSA isn’t naive. They realize quite well the pressures drivers face, and the consequences of what happens when a driver’s body is pushed too far. That’s why they have strict guidelines in place. These federal regulations are for the safety of the drivers and the public in general. After all, a laden 18-wheeler can weigh up to 80,000 pounds. With nearly 2 million such trucks on the roads averaging 140 billion miles a year, the FMCSA cannot afford to fool around. That’s why drivers are only permitted to operate under hours-of service, which include the following rules:
- Maximum average work week of 70 hours
- 30-minute breaks during first eight hours of the driver’s shift
- 11 hour per day driving limit/14 hour work day limit in total
In order to ensure drivers are sticking to these limits, the regulations, or FMCSR, requires them to maintain diligent log books, records of where the driver has been, how long they were on the road, when they took breaks, etc.
During weigh-station stops, these books may be reviewed for errors or outright falsification, which is not uncommon. Indeed many tractor-trailer drivers report cooking their books in order to appear as if they are in compliance with the rules, when in fact they are not. Drivers may use two or even three log books, in order to deceive inspectors or police if they get pulled over. For this reason, an inspector may compare records with other documents, like receipts or any onboard devices.
For instance, if a driver’s book says he was in Phoenix at 3:43, but he has a fuel receipt from San Bernardino at 1:13, chances are somebody’s not being honest since you can’t make that drive in two and a half hours.
Drivers are supposed to keep the last seven days’ of logs with them; the carrier themselves must keep the books for six months. During an investigation of an accident, the log books will be more closely scrutinized for falsification. The periods of ‘on‑duty‑not‑driving’ are typically cooked. A driver is may have snuck in a few extra hours behind the wheel, exceeding their maximum allowable time in the seat. So while an accident might have occurred during the driver’s normal driving shift period, it could have been caused because they’d been driving previously when they should have been resting. Fatigue catches up to the human body; there’s only so long and so far one can push it. That’s why drivers are rarely let off the hook if they fall asleep; they are held accountable for their actions, or inactions. If they didn’t stop the rest when they knew they should have, it’s on them.
Responsibility and Liability of Tractor-Trailer Companies for Truck Accidents
Meanwhile, any companies who are encouraging or directing such violations are liable for huge fines. ‘Trucking companies and passenger carriers that allow drivers to exceed driving limits by more than three hours could be fined $11,000 per offense, and the drivers themselves could face civil penalties of up to $2,750 for each offense,’ per the Department of Transportation.
The industry has come a long way in reducing collisions thanks to the efforts and diligence of the FMCSA, Still, it is incumbent upon drivers to report employers who ask them to break the law. A job is never worth someone’s life…or the lives of others who might be killed in a serious accident.