Dangerous Trends in the Trucking Industry
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) estimates more than six million commercial motor vehicle drivers operate on U.S. roads each year; more than four million of those drivers hold a commercial driver’s licenses (CDL) required for operating heavy trucks. When these trucks are involved in traffic accidents, the result is often catastrophic, including life-altering injuries because of the extra force and weight involved. Further, truck accidents are more likely to be fatal than other accidents; the FMSCA estimates more than 4,000 fatal truck accident crashes in 2016.
As a nation, our economy hinges on the trucking industry’s ability to transport goods over state and interstate highways. Yet, that economic health comes at a cost. Trucking is one of the most dangerous industries in America. Several recent dangerous trends in the trucking industry might result in more truck accidents, injuries, and fatalities. Other motorists on the road need to be familiar with these trends, so they can stay safe when they share the road with trucks.
Distracted Truck Drivers
Distracted driving remains one of the most dangerous aspects of sharing the road with other vehicles, especially large trucks. Unfortunately, the number of distractions for drivers of all stripes also continues to rise, including for commercial truck drivers. Although most people think of cell phones when they think of distracted driving, many other distractions may also take a driver’s attention away from the road. Some examples include eating food, adjusting the radio, reaching to grab something off of the seat or floor, and watching a roadside accident or incident while driving.
Still, cell phones are the preeminent threat to the safety of motorists when it comes to driver distraction. As driving professionals, truckers who hold CDL’s are legally held to a higher standard on the road. The FMSCA sets rules and regulations for the trucking industry, and has enacted strict laws in regards to cell phone use. That is because research shows that commercial vehicle drivers who text are more than four times likely to be involved in a crash, near-crash, unintentional lane change, or other safety-critical event, than other drivers. Commercial motor vehicle drivers are prohibited from most cell phone use while driving, which includes sending or receiving SMS messages, emails, accessing web pages, or using more than one single button to call a contact.
Commercial truck drivers may use a cell phone for voice calls if they don’t have to press more than one button and they utilize the hands-free feature on their phone. If they text and driver, not only might they cause an accident, but truck drivers may be fined, may be subject to civil penalties, and with repeat offenses might face a suspension from the State of Florida or lose their commercial endorsement.
Truck drivers work long hours and many often drive through the night transporting goods. Although federal regulations mandate that drivers can only be on the road for so many hours per day, their excruciating schedules and odd hours sometimes lead to driver fatigue even when they comply with regulation. In fact, the National Transportation Safety Board estimates that driver fatigue plays a role in 30 to 40 percent of heavy truck accidents. Research shows that staying awake for 18 hours is comparable to being legally intoxicated at a 0.08 percent blood alcohol concentration. In some truck accidents, drivers disobey the laws about the number of hours they can drive, creating a greater risk that they might fall asleep at the wheel. In other cases, drivers just don’t get the rest and sleep that they need even within the confines of the law.
Concerns about drivers putting in too many hours per day have led to increased use of electronic logging devices (ELDs) to monitor drivers. Yet, many drivers object to ELDs claiming they are an invasion of privacy. Some have even gone as far as filing lawsuits against employers to stop them from requiring ELDs. As of 2018, efforts to block ELD use have been rejected by the United States Supreme Court. One argument against the use of ELDs is research that shows driver alertness is far more related to the time of day than the number of hours at the wheel.
Some truck drivers try to fight fatigue by using tricks to stay alert including taking caffeine or supplements. This and other methods, like smoking, turning up the radio, and opening the window, don’t cure fatigue, however. These measures might help maintain alertness for a short time, but they do not address underlying fatigue and they do not last. For example, drinking coffee doesn’t work in the long term. It takes time for caffeine to enter the system, so if a driver is already tired when drinking some coffee or other caffeinated drink, it doesn’t give the immediate boost that a driver might need. Further, regular coffee drinkers will eventually build a tolerance to caffeine, so the effect might be much smaller. As a consequence, artificial means of staying awake only increase the risk of an accident by providing a false sense of security for the driver.
If you have driven on or near any Florida interstates late at night, you might notice trucks parked on exit ramps. Many of the trucks have sleepers, and drivers are taking mandatory breaks, hopefully getting some sleep. Have you ever wondered why those trucks are on an exit ramp instead of at a rest area or truck stop? It has to do with the shortage of truck parking for drivers to stop when they have completed their daily hours of service limit. Compounding the issue is the 2017 electronic logging device (ELD) mandate, requiring all trucks to have an ELD device.
Although little research has been done, anecdotal evidence suggests that electronic log books have increased parking issues. One study by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) found that commercial drivers who use electronic logs were twice as likely to spend at least 30 minutes searching for parking, making it difficult to deal with full truck stops.
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) reports that truck parking shortages remain a national safety concern. When trucks don’t have parking spaces where they need them, drowsy drivers might continue to drive because they have no place to rest. Parking on exit ramps and shoulders of the road is also unsafe. Both situations may lead to more truck accidents, injuries, and fatalities. Unfortunately, many studies suggest that this problem will only continue to grow because of the expected growth of the trucking industry.
Aggressive Recruitment of Retirees
With baby boomers retiring, the U.S. trucking industry is facing a severe labor shortage. In response, many trucking companies have begun to aggressively recruit retirees for driving jobs. CBS News conducted a five-month investigation revealing the potential dangers of having elderly truck drivers on the road. From 2013 to 2015 more than 6,600 elderly drivers were involved in accidents across 12 states. The same time period revealed a 19 percent increase in commercial vehicle accidents involving drivers over age 70.
Currently, there are no laws in place in the trucking industry that prohibit elderly commercial drivers. In contrast, the aviation industry requires airline pilots to retire at age 65 even with a pilot shortage in the nation. It’s illegal to discriminate based on age, but not talking about the issue has lead to catastrophic injuries and fatalities. In Florida, commercial drivers over age 70 are responsible for at least 400 fatalities per year.
Little research has been done on elderly truck drivers, but the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is aware of the trend. While government agencies study the influx of older truck drivers before changing any rules, trucking schools and companies will continue to hire retirees to help fill driver shortage.
Inexperienced Truck Drivers
The American Trucking Association (ATA) reports that the current driver shortage in excess of 50,000 positions might reach more than 175,000 by 2026 if current trends continue. The shortage of drivers, also includes a shortage of qualified drivers. Instead of raising wages to attract drivers, the industry as a whole has chosen to bring in newer and younger drivers who they don’t have to pay as much. Larger companies poach drivers with promises of large sign-on bonuses to leave their job, leaving openings for young and inexperienced drivers at smaller companies. Additionally, Congress and some in the trucking industry have been pushing to have the minimum age to operate a large truck reduced to 18 from 21.
Driving a semi is a dangerous career. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that being a commercial truck driver is almost eight times more deadly than becoming a police officer. It’s likely that lowering the age will result in even more trucking accidents across Florida and the nation, but Congress has continued to give leeway to the interests of trucking companies. The desire to hire younger drivers comes with other attempts to scale back, block, or modify trucking industry regulations that govern hours of service, mandatory rest periods, weight limits, and overall safety standards.
Safety standards like minimum age requirements exist to protect truckers and other motorists from injuries and fatalities that might occur in a truck accident. Removing these mandates or modifying them is a dangerous trend that may become worse when self-driving commercial trucks enter the mix in the future.
Obesity and Associated Health Issues
The research shows that truck drivers are twice as likely to be obese as other working adults in the United States. Additionally, the long hours of sitting, stress, and irregular schedules put drivers at risk for high blood pressure, sleep apnea, heart disease, diabetes, and more. In order to obtain a commercial drivers’ license (CDL), truck drivers must undergo yearly physicals. Some of these issues will prevent them from maintaining their license, but the dangers of these conditions can cause accidents long before drivers make a trip to the doctor.
Obesity contributes to the development of sleep apnea, a condition where a person stops breathing and starts again multiple times when they are sleeping. Apnea interferes with the sleep cycle causing those who suffer from the condition to miss out on quality sleep. Truckers already run on less sleep than average or recommended; obese truckers with apnea are at high risk for falling asleep at the wheel resulting in an accident that might cause multiple fatalities. Obese truck drivers are also at risk for developing Type II diabetes. While diabetes has many symptoms, fatigue and blurred vision especially put truck drivers and other motorists at risk for an accident. Untreated high blood pressure might lead to a stroke, heart attack, or kidney problems; all of which might create a health emergency for a trucker while they are on the road.
Unfortunately, driver shortages and earnings reduction from mandatory electronic logging devices might contribute to truckers continuing to struggle with obesity. With long hours and a focus on getting as far as possible during hours of services, unhealthy convenience store food and fast food remain easy options for truckers that drive long distances. Additionally, parking shortages that force drivers to park in unsafe spaces like exit ramps, don’t allow for drivers to get out and go for a walk to balance out hours of sitting in a truck.
Trucking accidents occur frequently on Florida roads and across the nation. In many cases, motorists are at fault, but dangerous trends in the trucking industry reveal that drivers also likely cause a significant number of accidents. If you or a loved one have sustained a serious injury in a trucking accident, you might be entitled to compensation for losses related to your injury that aren’t covered by your mandatory Florida personal injury protection (PIP) insurance.
A skilled personal injury lawyer who understands the dangerous trends in the trucking industry can help guide you through the process of seeking compensation for truck accident-related injuries. Trucking accident cases are notoriously complex because they often include multiple parties such as the driver, the trucking company, and their insurance carrier. Contact one of our seasoned truck accident attorneys at Dolman Law Group at (727) 451-6900 for a free consultation to discuss your case and learn about how we may be able to help you recover the compensation you deserve.
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