Much of American commerce is carried by big trucks on our highways, but far too many major accidents occur involving negligence or even reckless indifference by truckers and trucking companies. Truckers are governed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations which contain many requirements from checking the safety equipment on trucks before a truck leaves the yard, to hours of operation, to loading safety.
Now a new United States safety study which was obtained by the Associated Press has found that many drivers are violating the rules by driving while sick. This is sometimes done with the complicity of medical doctors who approve long term conditions such as those that cause periodic black outs, or with the consent of the trucking company that allows a sick driver to go out on the road.
Fatigue has long been recognized as a major factor in accidents involving over the road truck drivers. These drivers are on the road for many hours each week with a maximum of 70 allowed under Federal regulations in an 8 day period. Unfortunately the hours per day requirement has been relaxed by the Administration so that drivers are no longer limited to 8 consecutive hours on the road but may now drive 10. Nevertheless, fatigue is often a cause of serious accidents caused by inattentiveness, falling asleep at the wheel, or inadequate surveillance of the highway. The current study reported by the AP suggests another significant causative factor as sick drivers fatigue more rapidly and take over the counter medications. When a driver is sick the tendency to shortcut safety inspections and become overly tired on the road increases significantly.
In conducting an investigation of a trucking accident we look at the required documentation including the truckers log book, the safety inspection records, the load diagrams, medical certifications and other items. Truckers are required to obey local safety laws such as speed limits. Companies that schedule trucking runs that cannot be accomplished within the 10 hour work day without violating the speed limits are in violation of federal law and are likely to be legally responsible in the event of an accident that was caused by excessive speed or fatigue.
Companies have a duty to keep sick drivers off the road, to schedule trips that can be accomplished within the requirements of the law and to assure that federal safety regulations are followed.
Shippers can be responsible for truck rollovers caused by load shift in a sealed vehicle or in a trailer in which it was impractical for the driver to inspect the load before leaving the loading dock. Many rollovers in which the truckers themselves are killed or seriously injured are caused by load shifts which could have been prevented by the use of reasonably prudent loading patterns and techniques.
Trucking is one of the leading causes of occupational death in the country today. Stronger regulation is needed to protect the public and the drivers themselves. In an era when trucking regulations are being relaxed or loosely enforced a strong civil justice system to bring compensation and at times punitive damages to the families of injured victims is indispensable.