Is Driver Fatigue Leading to More Commercial Truck Accidents?

We see them on Oregon interstate highways every day, hauling goods across the state on their way to destinations near and far. These mammoths of the motorway are hard to miss, given a starting weight of at least 10,000 pounds and with many running to several multiples of that figure.

How would you feel, then, if you found out that something in the region of one out of every four of those juggernauts had a driver behind the wheel who hadn’t had enough sleep? Because that’s exactly what the ODOT found out in a July 9 to 14 mass inspection of commercial trucks on Interstate 5.

The ODOT (Oregon Department of Transportation) released their findings from that six-day period that showed more than one-quarter of the commercial truck drivers inspected had either exceeded the legal limit of hours behind the wheel, or had not had enough rest. Portland commercial truck accidents attorneys feel those figures are unacceptable, given the kind of damage a commercial vehicle can do when it collides with a much smaller car, SUV or pickup truck.

How often are commercial trucks supposed to stop?

A commercial truck is defined as any vehicle weighing more than 10,000 pounds. As a result, some vehicles you might not even consider falling into this category actually do so, including:

  • Log trucks
  • Smaller trucks carrying heavy or hazardous materials
  • Some of the larger passenger vehicles

The laws that state how often trucks must stop, and how long drivers must rest before getting back behind the wheel, vary between the different types and categories of commercial trucks.

One thing is certain, however, and that is far too many commercial truck drivers are flouting safety laws by driving too many hours with insufficient rest. Of the 1,000 drivers inspected on Interstate 5 (in Oregon) last month, 256 were immediately put out of service for contravening safety statutes.

ODOT spokesman David House says each incident of a truck driver being cited for driving too many hours with too little rest is recorded in a national database. House said if too many violations are recorded, the ODOT will actually make an approach to the drivers and/or the trucking companies to warn them of the future consequences of further violations.

According to House, these large-scale inspections generally take place once every few months. A typical mass inspection will see between 20 and 25 percent of drivers put out of service for rule infractions.

House said the reasons that the most recent inspections saw higher than normal numbers being put off the road is because ODOT efforts were coordinated with their Washington counterparts. The methodology employed does not involve rocket science. Quite simply, one example would be:

  • A driver was inspected in Washington and no violations were detected.
  • The information was passed on to ODOT officials.
  • The same driver was inspected again in Woodburn
  • It was clear that the driver had gotten from the inspection point in Washington to Woodburn far sooner than he or she would have if they had followed rest break rules.
  • The fatigued driver is then ordered to pull into a designated rest area without leaving the weigh station, the ODOT equivalent of a penalty box.

The intention, according to House, is not to inconvenience the commercial truck drivers or boost state coffers with revenues from fines. “We’re keeping them honest, keeping them safe,” he said, adding that coordinating information between states makes it far easier to identify suspected fatigued drivers.

Statistics show commercial truck accidents are a major problem:

Commercial truck accidents frequently occur due to driver fatigue, which is, according to House, the major contributing factor to such crashes. The statistics would indicate he has a point. For example:

  • In Oregon, 74 people have been killed in crashes involving a drowsy commercial truck driver, according to ODOT figures.
  • The National Traffic Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) claims that overly-fatigued drivers cause more than 100,000 crashes on American roads each year.
  • NHTSA statistics claim these accidents result in injuries to more than 40,000 people, while an average of 1,550 deaths occur due to drowsy driving.

The figures are perhaps not surprising given the sheer size and power of the vehicles involved. What is truly unfortunate is the fact that it’s the innocent motorist, cyclist or pedestrian who generally suffers the greater injuries when a commercial truck driver nods off behind the wheel.

Injuries suffered in commercial truck accidents are generally more severe, more painful, more life-changing and consequently more expensive than those that occur when two smaller vehicles collide. In addition, Oregon law takes into consideration that it may not just be the driver who is liable for an injured victim’s injuries, but the trucking company as well, or even the truck manufacturer.

For these reasons, anyone who has been injured in an accident involving a commercial truck would do well to contact an experienced Portland truck accident attorney for advice. Filing a claim against multiple parties can be complicated, yet failing to do so could limit your chances of receiving the compensation you will need to pay your medical bills, cover your lost wages, and meet the cost of any future treatment required.

When deciding on which personal injury lawyer you want to handle your case, make sure they have experience in dealing with commercial truck accidents. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about their rate of success with such cases or the amount of compensation you can expect to receive. The consultation should be free, and a good personal injury lawyer will not charge you one penny unless and until your case is won.