Will Drowsy Driving Truck Accidents Rise during FMCSA Rule Suspension?

Under the recent suspension of a federal rule, truckers may avoid overnight rests and work longer weeks. This could result in more fatigue-related crashes.

Many people in Red Bank are well aware of the role that fatigue can play in large truck accidents. The widely publicized 2014 crash that injured Tracy Morgan and killed James McNair highlighted the deadly effects of driver fatigue. Sadly, drowsy driving is a common issue in the trucking industry. Federal regulations have been enacted to address this issue. However, the recent suspension of one regulation could leave room for an increase in negligent behaviors and truck accidents.

When the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration rule was effective, truckers were required to log periods of overnight rest each week. According to the FMCSA, a trucker’s weekly 34-hour “restart period” had to include two periods of overnight rest. A period only qualified as overnight rest if it spanned from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. Now, with the rule suspended, truckers only need to record a 34-hour restart period, with no overnight rests necessary.

Dangerous rule changes

This change may lead to an increase in drowsy driving, since truckers no longer need to sleep on natural cycles. According to The New York Times, one study suggests that truckers who complete only one overnight rest per restart period show performance impairments. These impairments include losing focus on driving and drifting into other lanes. Drivers who don’t log a full overnight rest each week may show even worse impairments.

The rule suspension also may allow more truckers to work excessive hours, increasing the risk of fatigue and poor driving performance. The Marshfield News-Herald explains that the overnight rest rule virtually restricted drivers to working 70-hour weeks. Now, depending on how drivers schedule their restart periods, they may work up to 82 hours per week.

The rule suspension is not permanent. The FMCSA must complete a study into the efficacy of the rule by Sept. 30, 2015. At that point, the rule could be reinstated. However, even if this is the case, the suspension may have detrimental effects during the intervening months.

Fatigue and truck crashes

Fatigue can be a significant risk factor in car and truck accidents. Drowsiness can result in delayed reaction times, poor judgment and misperceptions. Still, statistics regarding fatigue-related truck accidents are limited. This may be in part because fatigue is less easily established than other accident causes, such as intoxication.

In 2006, the FMCSA’s Large Truck Crash Causation Study estimated that 13 percent of all truck accidents involve fatigue. According to The New York Times, trucking industry officials claim a much lower accident rate of 7 percent. Both rates still translate to a high number of accidents involving fatigue, given the overall number of truck accidents that occur annually.

Addressing New Jersey accidents

Data from the New Jersey State Police reveals that fatal truck accidents are already a significant risk in the state. In 2012, trucks played a role in 67 fatal accidents. The number of truck accidents that resulted in serious injuries may have been even higher. Sadly, these accidents may only increase if more truck drivers begin working longer hours and skipping needed overnight sleep.

Anyone who has been hurt in a truck accident involving drowsy driving or other factors should consider meeting with an attorney. An attorney may be able to offer advice on documenting the accident circumstances and pursuing legal recourse.

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