While the incidence of serious trucking accidents hit a nationwide low in 2009, along with the stock market, trucking-related injuries and deaths continue to rise. Indeed, over the course of the first four years of the economic recovery, the number of trucking-related deaths increased by 17.3 percent.
However, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently withdrew a proposed pre-rule that would require certain truck drivers and transport personnel to undergo periodic sleep apnea screenings, calling into question the government's commitment to reducing these types of serious accidents.
Read on to learn more about the measures the federal government has put into place to reduce the incidence of sleepy drivers on the road, as well as how you can recover monetary damages if you're harmed by an overly tired transport worker.
Federal Measures to Reduce Risk of Sleepy Truckers
One of the reasons cited by the FMCSA in its withdrawal of the sleep apnea pre-rule was the existence of a patchwork of other federal laws, rules and regulations governing truckers' health and safety. These rules, argued the FMCSA, could render the sleep apnea rule redundant or overly intrusive.
Under current federal law, to maintain a commercial driver's license (CDL) with their respective state department of motor vehicles, truck drivers are required to undergo a physical examination at least once every two years.
A satisfactory examination will permit the issuance of a Department of Transportation (DOT) medical certificate to the trucker. Medical examiners who have any concerns about an individual trucker's health, including concerns about the risk of sleep apnea, can refuse to issue a medical certificate until the trucker submits to additional testing.
Truckers who are diagnosed with chronic health conditions, including high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes, may only qualify for a oneyear medical certificate, necessitating more frequent checkups to maintain their CDL.
Permitted Driving Time
In addition to requiring truckers to undergo regular medical examinations, the FMCSA has enacted some hours-of-service regulations to discourage truckers from pushing through lengthy shifts to get to their destinations. Sadly, some of the most deadly (and preventable) trucking accidents have taken place after the driver spent 16, 18 or even 24 hours on the road without a break.
These hours-of-service regulations require property-carrying drivers to ensure at least a 10-hour off-duty period before hitting the road again, as well as restricting drivers from operating more than 14 hours per day or more than 70 hours in 7 consecutive days.
Despite these restrictions, many drivers continue to flout these laws, falsifying log books to permit them to work longer hours without penalty. Because truckers are generally paid per mile, rather than per hour, it can take a detailed audit to uncover the true number of hours worked per week.
However, after Dec. 18, 2017, owners and drivers of rigs built after 2000 will be required to install electronic logging devices in their vehicles, reducing the likelihood that hours of service violations will go undetected and, many advocates hope, improving public safety. In its press release announcing the proposed rule, the FMCSA estimated that implementation of this regulation could "save 26 lives and 562 injuries" each year.
Legal Options to Consider
If you've been injured by a trucker who fell asleep at the wheel, you may be wondering about your legal options and how you should proceed. While negotiating with an insurance company is rarely a pleasant task after an accident, you may find it even tougher in this type of situation, especially if you have evidence the driver was violating one or more federal regulations at the time of the accident.
Unless the trucker immediately admits liability and makes you a settlement offer you can't refuse, you'll likely need some legal assistance to pursue your claim. Consulting an attorney or law firm with experience in large trucking cases can give you the confidence you need to push forward.