A recent Bloomberg news series reports an increase in commercial truck accidents in the U.S. and truck accident data from Massachusetts reflects that trend. The danger, according to the report, comes from fatigued truck drivers employed by a trucking industry that has resisted efforts to regulate truckers’ time behind the wheel.
The most recently published figures from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MA DOT) say there were more than 1,880 crashes involving tractor-trailers and other commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) in Massachusetts in 2011. They accounted for 8.5 percent of all crash fatalities in the state. The fatal crash rate per vehicle miles traveled for large trucks was more than five times higher than that of passenger vehicles, and the injury crash rate was two times higher.
The series of reports by Bloomberg News says the rate of fatalities in commercial truck crashes has been on a rise since 2009. In 2012, crashes involving large trucks killed 3,921 people in the U.S., a 16 percent increase from 2009.
“There were many causes, including more trucks on the road in an improving economy,” Bloomberg says. “But regulators have focused on the persistent issue of fatigued drivers working long hours.”
The latest U.S. truck-fatigue rules, known as Hours of Service (HOS) regulations, went into effect in July 2013 after years of efforts by the trucking industry to block the regulations. In December, Congressional negotiators agreed under pressure from lobbyists to suspend an HOS requirement that truckers get two consecutive overnights of rest after they reach weekly time limits for time behind the wheel, Bloomberg says.
Hours of Service regulations are complicated. A drivers’ guide published by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) indicates that the HOS rules provide that a trucker may drive for 60 to 70 hours in a seven- or eight-day week before being required to take at least 34 hours off.
Members of the U.S. Senate and House agreed to await the results of a study before deciding whether more sleep would make a trucker safer as the driver piloted a 10,000-pounds-plus motor vehicle on our roads.
The FMCSA says fatigue or drowsiness impairs a truck driver’s response time to potential hazards, increasing the chances of being in a crash. The landmark Large Truck Crash Causation Study (LTCCS) reported that 13 percent of commercial motor vehicle drivers were considered to have been fatigued at the time of their crash.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says its research indicates that truck drivers behind the wheel for more than eight hours are twice as likely to crash. Its surveys of truckers indicate that many drivers violate the HOS regulations and work longer than permitted.
The Institute’s researchers said that truckers’ long work hours cause sleep deprivation, disruption of sleep cycles and fatigue. The drivers who reported hours-of-service violations (in surveys) are more likely to report having fallen asleep behind the wheel during the past month.
Additional Large Truck Accident Concerns
In addition to fatigue, driver distraction is another major safety concern among those who monitor the activities of commercial truck drivers. The FMCSA says driver distraction is the diversion of attention from activities critical for safe driving. Driver distraction increases the risk of getting into a crash.
Truck driver distractions inside and outside of the truck cab include dialing cell phones, texting, using dispatching devices, eating, reading, adjusting the radio, and looking at a passing building, billboard or person, the FMCSA says.
Inattention and external distractions are among the top contributors to truck crashes, and distraction was the number one cause of truck crashes in Massachusetts in 2010-2011, according to the MA DOT.
Other top causes of truck crashes in Massachusetts included:
- Failure to yield right of way
- Following too closely
- Failure to keep in lane
- Disregarding traffic signs and signals
- Reckless driving
The strength of trucking companies, and the size and weight of large commercial trucks, make a truck accident more complicated than a passenger car accident. As the above shows, many of the reasons a trucker gets into a crash can be identified and easily understood.
If you have been injured in an accident caused by a truck driver and a commercial motor vehicle, don’t let the trucking company take advantage of you. Contact a truck accident lawyer at Kelly & Soto Law in Boston for assistance with your claim.