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Tired trucker pleads guilty to manslaughter for NC crash that killed 5

Written by Steve Gursten Posted May 7th, 2013

Why driver fatigue is the often contributing yet ignored factor in preventable crashes

Truck driver fatigue is the elephant in the room.  Most personal injury lawyers who take on trucking cases don’t yet know how to investigate and identify driver fatigue as a contributing factor in cases. And it also has been no secret that the powerful trucking lobby, especially the American Trucking Association (ATA), has vehemently opposed the hours of service (HOS) changes that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) plans to implement on July 1, 2013.

The FMCSA has chosen to adopt the changes in an effort to combat the single most prevalent problem that plagues the trucking industry today – truck driver fatigue.

Truck driver fatigue is a notorious yet often not explicit factor in many truck accidents. In addition to downplaying the role of truck driver fatigue, the ATA argues the new HOS rules are too costly and do not promote safety.  The ATA says the rules meant to limit fatigued driving will increase industry costs by about $470 million annually, and would force trucking companies to place more trucks on the road during rush hour resulting in delays.

But the ATA is completely wrong opposing these changes.

I came across a story recently. In 2010, a tragic truck crash occurred in North Carolina.  There was a string of stopped cars on the highway, behind a stalled vehicle.  An oncoming truck driver slammed into the rear of the line of vehicles, and five people were killed. A subsequent investigation revealed that the truck hit cars doing 70 miles per hour.

State troopers concluded that driver fatigue was a contributing factor.

Earlier in 2013, the truck driver pleaded guilty to multiple manslaughter charges.

This is a terrible story.  Unfortunately, as a truck accident attorney, I know that this scenario is far too common.  This same story unfolds over and over again in every corner of the country.  When people are getting killed because of driver fatigue, it is astonishing that the ATA and other trucking advocates can even entertain the notion that the HOS modifications are a bad idea.  If anything, safety advocates, like myself, question whether the FMCSA changes go far enough to protect our highways.  Truck driver fatigue is a huge problem, and it is killing people.

A series of studies by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has highlighted the prevalence of driver fatigue in crashes involving commercial vehicles.  For instance, the NTSB concluded that:

  • 52% of 107 single-vehicle accidents involving heavy trucks were related to truck driver fatigue.
  • About 20% of all accidents involving heavy trucks were caused by fatigue.
  • In nearly 1/5 of those cases studied, the truck driver admitted to falling asleep.

Similarly, the United States Department of Transportation investigations surrounding fatigue found that fatigue-related fatal accidents accounted for about 30% of total fatal accidents.

Even more alarming, in the DOT study, 50% of the truckers studied admitted they had dozed off at the wheel.

It is saddening, yet disturbing, that the ATA has so vehemently opposed the FMCSA changes which are so clearly needed.  The very fact that the ATA has tried to downplay the role of truck driver fatigue in accidents is disrespectful to the people who have been hurt or killed by tired truckers, and is downright shameful.

For more information please see: FMSCA Final HOS rule.

Steven Gursten Photo

About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group. He has been named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. Steve was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case. He has received the top reported truck accident jury verdict and top reported truck accident settlement in Michigan for multiple years, according to published year-end compilations of all jury verdicts and personal injury settlements by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has been named a "Top 50 Super Lawyer," by SuperLawyers, is listed in Best Lawyers in America, and has been awarded an AV-rating by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating for legal ability and ethics. Steve speaks to lawyers throughout the country on truck accident litigation. He is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, head of Michigan Auto Law, and has dedicated his legal career to making our roads safer.
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