Is There an Increased Risk of Fatigued Truck Driver Crashes Due to Pandemic Demands?

Many drivers find driving alongside a huge tractor-trailer or other type of commercial truck very intimidating. It can even be frightening sometimes. A crash involving a truck is almost always catastrophic because of its massive size and weight. One of the most frequent causes of trucking accidents is truck driver fatigue, a common issue for commercial truck drivers due to the long hours they spend behind the wheel of their vehicle.

For a good portion of 2020, many people have stayed home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This has meant fewer people on Virginia roads, however, it has also led to a significant increase in the amount of online ordering consumers are doing in order to avoid having to go to stores to purchase their items. This increase in online shopping has also led to an increase in additional commercial trucks on the road to ensure cargo is shipped and delivered as quickly as possible.

There was already a shortage of truck drivers prior to the pandemic and this increased demand has only caused a greater strain and pressure on drivers and trucking companies to deliver these products on time. This can result in truck drivers pushing their own physical limits, as well as ignoring the federal regulations put in place as to how many hours a truck driver is allowed to work.

These hours-of-service regulations are put in place by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to help prevent truck driver fatigue and ensure that drivers remain alert and awake to the condition of the road at all times. The current hours of service regulations are:

  • Truck drivers may drive a maximum of 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty.
  • Truck drivers may not drive beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty, following 10 consecutive hours off duty. Off-duty time does not extend the 14-hour period.
  • Truck drivers must take a 30-minute break when they have driven for a period of eight cumulative hours without at least a 30-minute interruption. The break may be satisfied by any non-driving period of 30 consecutive minutes (i.e., on-duty not driving, off-duty, sleeper berth, or any combination of these taken consecutively).
  • Truck drivers may not drive after 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days. A driver may restart a 7/8 consecutive day period after taking 34 or more consecutive hours off duty.
  • Truck drivers may split their required 10-hour off-duty period, as long as one off-duty period (whether in or out of the sleeper berth) is at least two hours long and the other involves at least seven consecutive hours spent in the sleeper berth. All sleeper berth pairings MUST add up to at least 10 hours. When used together, neither time period counts against the maximum 14-hour driving window.
  • Truck drivers are allowed to extend the 11-hour maximum driving limit and 14-hour driving window by up to two hours when adverse driving conditions are encountered.
  • A driver is exempt from these requirements the driver operates within a 150 air-mile radius of the normal work reporting location, and the driver does not exceed a maximum duty period of 14 hours. Drivers using the short-haul exception must report and return to the normal work reporting location within 14 consecutive hours and stay within a 150 air-mile radius of the work reporting location.

While many truck drivers do abide by these regulations, there are too many drivers who attempt to exceed the allowed limits. Some drivers are even pressured by the trucking companies to break these rules in order to meet almost impossible delivery schedules. Disobeying these regulations means the driver is on the road longer and more at risk of suffering from fatigue. This not only puts the driver at risk of injury or death in a crash, but also other commuters the driver is on the road with.

It is not just drivers breaking regulations that can suffer from driver fatigue. Even those drivers who adhere to the regulations can find themselves becoming drowsy behind the wheel, especially if they are unable to get enough sleep during their off-hours.

Let Us Help You Today

If you or a family member has been injured in a truck accident, contact a seasoned Virginia truck accident attorney to discuss what legal recourse you may have. Even if it is not entirely clear who is the at-fault party, our injury attorney will be able to determine which party or parties are liable. Truck accidents are often more complex to litigate than car accidents because there is often more than one party who is deemed liable for the victim’s injuries.

At Shapiro, Appleton & Washburn, our injury attorneys have represented numerous truck accident victims in our more than three decades of practicing injury law. Call our office today to schedule a free and confidential consultation.