Driver fatigue is rampant among commercial motor vehicle drivers. A combination of systematic mismanagement and incentive to break the law is a significant contributing factor. A tired driver is likely to be involved in a car accident. Like when the driver is driving a large truck, the consequences of an accident can be fatal to the public.
It’s worth examining why driver fatigue is such a common occurrence among commercial motor vehicle drivers. What are the factors that perpetuate this, and why don’t companies do anything about it?
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There are more than half a million authorized motor carriers in the United States. Talented drivers are increasingly becoming rare in the industry, and their numbers are dwindling.
Most companies still abide by the pay by the mile rule. Under that payment scheme, a truck driver who drives further and longer routes get paid more. Hence, drivers tend to disregard their body clocks and ignore fatigue to drive longer routes.
Most truck drivers take the opportunity to drive longer routes because of their relatively low wages. Massive competition among the many authorized motor carriers has kept truck driver wages down. These motor carriers must abide by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR), but complying with the law can be expensive. Accordingly, companies in compliance with the FMCSR are often undercut by those willing to cut corners.
Truck drivers feel enormous pressure to drive longer routes and work longer hours even though they need more rest. They are inclined to do so because of the compensation system in place in the trucking industry. The industry claims that fatigue is uncommon among drivers due to safety regulations. However, experts have noted that driver fatigue is the most significant contributing factor in most truck accidents. Add to this the fact that trucking companies rarely, if ever, screen their drivers for sleep disorders.
Drivers and authorized motor carriers are subject to many forms of liability in truck accidents, especially those caused by fatigue and lack of sleep.
For example, one common source of liability under the law is 49 C.F.R. § 392.3. It provides that a motor carrier should not require nor permit a driver to operate a commercial motor vehicle when the driver’s ability is impaired. This statute sounds good in theory, but it’s difficult to enforce. Most companies are required to have training systems to comply with this provision. The best option is a management system short of placing someone besides the driver to monitor him constantly. Ideally, the system should prevent drivers from driving when it is clear that they are too tired to continue.
The problem with these management systems is that they are often too focused on compliance instead of the safety of the drivers. Fatigue due to lack of sleep can occur even when the driver is within the allowed hours. In this case, the company may be compliant with the requirement. Yet, the driving conditions are still unsafe which can enable a fatigued driver to drive.
Even when a driver is merely lacking in sleep and not falling asleep at the wheel, the danger remains. A driver’s skill, coordination, abilities, and cognitive fixation are affected when a driver lacks the right amount of sleep.
Considering the systems in place, the burden of ensuring the safety of the drivers and the public falls mainly on the motor carriers. Failure to provide this can lead to liability on their part.