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Truck drivers and fatigue: A deadly combination

The problem and the cause

We have all seen them on the state's highways and byways: Big trucks carrying big cargo going at high speeds. Trucks rank number one in this country as the preferred method of transporting freight, and Tennessee ranks number six for cargo ton-miles, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and the Tennessee Trucking Association.

When you see a lot of trucks, you see a lot of accidents, and the size and weight of today's commercial trucks increases the risk that such accidents will be serious or fatal. In fact, across the country, there are approximately 5,000 deaths a year resulting from collisions between cars and trucks, as reported by legalinfo.com. Reasons are many and various as to causes of accidents, but the cause considered most significant is fatigue experienced by the driver of the truck, which fatigue seriously impairs his judgments. Some say fatigue accounts for 35-40 percent of truck accidents.

What, exactly, is "fatigue"? It can refer to extreme tiredness or exhaustion. The cause? Factors cited are: Not getting enough sleep, working long hours, strenuous deadlines, abiding by rigorous and strict schedules, loading and unloading loads heavy in weight, and overtime. In turn, fatigue impairs the truck driver's ability to judge his own fatigue level.

The regulatory solution

In 2009, the National Transportation Board's new chair announced the support of the board for the mandatory use by all truckers of electronic onboard recorders to allow monitoring of fatigue and driver hours. She said, as reported by Driving Ambition Inc., "Transportation is a 24/7 operation and fatigue has been on our most-wanted list of transportation safety improvements. We investigate accidents on a regular basis where we find two sets of logbooks. We think that if you want to raise the standard for the industry and level the playing field for all drivers, that you've got to have an honest way of accounting the hours that people are working."

Because the NTSB is without regulatory authority, it relies on its safety recommendation being adopted by other agencies, or on voluntary compliance by the trucking industry. Fortunately, in 2013, Congress enacted a bill requiring all carriers filing a record of duty status to use electronic logging devices to track hours of service. Implementing regulations were enacted in 2014, requiring use of such devices by 2017.

The legal solution

Unfortunately, it is not 2017 yet, and until then, and probably even after, there will be accidents caused by truck driver fatigue, accidents resulting in serious injuries and death. If you are involved in such an accident, you should consult an experienced personal injury attorney immediately, which attorney will thoroughly investigate the accident, examining the vehicles involved and the scene of the incident, making sure that evidence therefrom is not altered or destroyed, and talking to witnesses and taking their statements. All this will be done to counter any investigations done by the truck and insurance companies.

After such an investigation, the attorney will determine which parties might be at fault and thus amenable to a civil damage suit for injuries and losses.

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