What role should a truck company play in preventing truck driver fatigue – before it causes a crash?
Trucking companies have a duty under the FMCSRs to prevent their truckers from driving fatigued
It is no secret that truck driver fatigue leading to preventable crashes is one of the most prevalent problems in the entire trucking industry.
Most industry figures grossly underestimate the occurrences of fatigue related semi-truck wrecks. In fact, even government figures have been criticized as being too low. Objective experts who study fatigue related truck accidents estimate that between 15% and 20% of all truck wrecks are caused by truck driver fatigue. (Consensus Statement: Fatigue and Accidents in Transport Operations, Compiled by Dr. Torbjörnakerstedt (2000)).
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) take a very clear stance against fatigued driving. § 392.3 of the rules read:
No driver shall operate a commercial motor vehicle, and a motor carrier shall not require or permit a driver to operate a commercial motor vehicle, while the driver’s ability or alertness is so impaired, or so likely to become impaired, through fatigue, illness, or any other cause, as to make it unsafe for him/her to begin or continue to operate the commercial motor vehicle.
So what does this mean?
First, and obviously, the rules prohibit a trucker from driving a semi-truck when fatigued. But if you notice, the rule also talks about the motor carrier and its responsibilities. The motor carrier shall not require, and shall not permit, a trucker to drive while fatigued. It’s clear a trucking company cannot require a trucker to break the rules.
But how does a trucking company “permit” a truck driver to operate under the influence of fatigue? Does the trucking company have to monitor its drivers to watch for signs of fatigue? No. What this means is that the motor carrier must have a management system in place to effectively prevent truck drivers from operating their big-rigs when they are fatigued. That’s the only way the trucking company can comply with § 392.3.
Simply instructing a truck driver to pull off the road when they are feeling fatigued is not enough. There must be an audit system in place. Truck drivers should be properly trained on how fatigue can affect their alertness and reaction times, and the dangers of fatigued truck driving.
As an attorney who litigates serious truck accidents throughout the country, one of the most important things I often do is hire my own truck safety expert to audit log books and trip, meal and gas receipts to look for evidence of fatigued driving and driving over hours of service.
Trucking companies also need to be cognizant that being compliant and being safe aren’t always one in the same. For example, a truck driver who drives 11 hours followed by 10 hours off duty for four cycles is absolutely compliant with the regulations. But the driver is arguably more of a threat of causing a serious truck accident because he will have been subjected to a rearward rotating schedule with a dangerous alteration of his sleep cycles and, in the next driving period will be driving throughout the period of time at which he was sleeping at the beginning of his tour of duty.
The entire trucking industry is based on a dangerous model, but trucking companies need to do their part — as they are required by § 392.3, to prevent truckers from getting behind the wheel when they’re tired.