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Sleep Deprivation and Trucking Accidents

Casey Woodruff

truckWhether you’re behind the wheel of a passenger car or driving a large truck on the highway, drowsy driving can lead to serious and fatal truck accidents. Given that long-haul truck drivers are on the road for longer stretches of time than most other Americans, sleep deprivation is a serious issue. While federal regulations require truckers to take breaks at certain intervals, the stress of delivering a load on time can take precedent over necessary rest.

Performance Can Outweigh Attention to Sleep Requirements

According to a recent report from ABC News 20/20, “companies put unrelenting pressure on drivers to make sure loads are delivered on time.” Indeed, one semi-truck driver emphasized how the tight deadlines involved in transporting loads across the country—a job that often involves some amount of sleep deprivation—can mean that “any small mistake can take a life.” As the report pointed out, truck drivers only get paid when they’re behind the wheel. The fact that a truck driver must actually be driving in order to receive a paycheck results in some drivers falsely reporting that they’ve met the federal requirements for resting.

Truckers are required to record the number of hours they are on the road and, conversely, the number of hours they are taking off from driving. The latter is a requirement imposed by Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations. While most drivers abide by the rules and take proper rest breaks, many continue to drive despite the fact that they are sleep deprived. As one semi-truck driver put it, “there are circumstances where companies and drivers will put money ahead of safety.” Indeed, “some drivers simply resort to falsifying their logbooks so they can stay out on the road.”

What does it mean for a driver to falsify his or her logbook? In short, the driver will indicate that he is taking a rest, but in fact, will be behind the wheel on the highway.  Drowsy driving can have serious consequences. For instance, last summer an Illinois truck driver caused a deadly traffic collision that resulted in the deaths of five people. In that case, the driver had falsified his logbook entries. Prosecutors found that he had actually been on the road for 12 straight hours.

Sleep and Rest Regulations for Drivers

What are the federal regulations for truck drivers when it comes to taking rest breaks? Under FMCSA section 395.3, truckers who drive property-carrying vehicles are subject to numerous regulations, including but not limited to the following:

  • Drivers cannot start a shift without first taking 10 consecutive hours off duty;
  • Drivers may drive a total of 11 hours during a 14-hour work period; and
  • Drivers may not drive for more than 8 consecutive hours without being off-duty or taking a rest break of at least 30 minutes in the sleeper-berth.

Regulations also specify the number of consecutive days a trucker may work, as well as the rest periods that must be taken during that time.

Contact a Chicago Truck Accident Lawyer

Sleep deprivation puts truck drivers and other passenger vehicles at serious risk. Even when a truck driver obeys the regulations, drowsy driving still can play a role in causing a deadly car crash.  If you or someone you love sustained life-altering or fatal injuries in a trucking accident, you should speak to a personal injury attorney at Woodruff Johnson & Evans as soon as possible. You may be able to file a claim for financial compensation.

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