Truck Driver Fatigue Seen as Factor in Truck Accidents

Date: October 6, 2006
Posted In: DLP Law

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, an alliance of consumer, health and safety groups which encourages the adoption of Federal and State laws, policies and programs that save lives, reduce injuries and make our roads safer, has set forth and informative “Fact Sheet” regarding truck driver fatigue and how it statistically factors into truck accidents.

Truck Driver Fatigue

Each year truck crashes kill over 5,000 people and injure almost 150,000 more on our nation’s roads and highways. Nearly one in four passenger vehicle deaths in multiple-vehicle collisions involve a large truck. In 1998, 98% of the fatalities in two-vehicle crashes involving passenger vehicles and large trucks were occupants of the passenger vehicles. Large trucks are involved in multiple-vehicle fatal crashes at twice the rate of passenger vehicles. Furthermore, almost 800 large truck occupants, almost all of them drivers, die each year in these crashes. In recent years, almost one of every four fatalities among passenger vehicle occupants have been the result of multi-vehicle collisions involving a large truck.

When commercial drivers become fatigued from excessive daily and weekly work hours, they substantially increase the risk of crashes that result in death or serious injuries. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), more than 750 people die and 20,000 more are injured each year due directly to fatigued commercial vehicle drivers. For this reason, the FMCSA has issued a proposed rule change to hours of service regulations governing commercial vehicle operators. The current rule requires that commercial drivers operate a truck or bus no more than 10 consecutive hours before resting for minimum of 8 hours. This permits fatigued drivers to spend 16 hours driving in any 24 hours period. The new rule proposes a rotating schedule of work/rest based on a 24 hour period instead of an 18 hour period which requires longer rest periods for the drivers.


• The proposed rule is based on a 24-hour (circadian) clock requiring drivers to rest between 9-12 continuous hours each day. Any interruption in the off-duty time by dispatchers, shippers or other personnel requires the driver to re-start the off-duty period.

• Under the proposed rule, drivers must take up to 2-3 hours of breaks in addition to the required 9-12 hour off-duty period.

• The proposed rule limits commercial vehicle drivers to a 60-hour work week, with some exceptions. Upon reaching the maximum work hours per week, drivers must have an off-duty period encompassing at least 2 successive nights.

• The proposal requires long-haul and regional drivers to use tamper-proof devices such as Electric On-Board Recorders (EOBR) which monitor actual daily and weekly driving time.


• The proposal allows commercial vehicle drivers to operate their rigs for 12 consecutive hours which is 2 hours longer than permitted under current law. This would greatly increase truck driver exposure to the risk of crashes at the point of greatest fatigue.

• The proposed rule allows for only a minimum of 32 hours off-duty rest after 5-6 days of driving for 12 consecutive hours. In addition, it allows unlimited nighttime driving without restriction.

• The schedules offered in the proposed rule actually allow a 6.3 day on-duty/off-duty rotation which could result in some drivers operating their rigs 300 hours per month and 3600 hours per year. This is over 50% more than the average amount of hours accrued yearly by worker in other economic sectors.

• The proposal does not distinguish between driving and non-driving truck work. For example, some drivers would be able to drive the twelve hours maximum and then spend several more hours loading and unloading freight during their daily mandated off-duty rest time, leading to their falsification of record of duty log books.

• The proposal also allows long-haul drivers to operate their trucks for 6 consecutive days followed by only a short layover before another 4 consecutive days of driving, followed by a long (80 hours) layover before beginning a new tour of duty. This formula is reverses the appropriate rest periods for off -duty drivers. Drivers need more time off after longer driving stints, not less.


• Large trucks accounted for 13% of all passenger vehicle deaths in 1999 yet represented only 3% of all registered vehicles. (National Highway Transportation Safety Administration or NHTSA, 2000).

• Truck driver fatigue is a contributing factor in as many as 30-40% of all heavy truck crashes. (NHTSA, 1994).

• A 1995 National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) study found that of 107 heavy truck crashes, fatigue was a prominent factor in 75% of the run-off-the-road crashes, with 68% of long-haul drivers and 49% of short haul drivers suffering fatigue-related crashes.
Working long shifts not only radically increases the risk of performance errors due to lost alertness and drowsiness, but it also impairs a trucker’s ability to gain proper restorative sleep even when they have sufficient off-duty time for sleep. (Federal Highway Administration or FHWA, 1997).

• Australian research and on-site investigations over the last several years have determined that, overall, one crash in every five among truck drivers is due to falling asleep at the wheel and that up to 30% of truck crash fatalities on rural roads are due to sleep deprivation.

• The risk of a crash effectively doubles from the eighth to the tenth hour of driving, and doubles again from the tenth to the eleventh hour of driving alone. (FMCSA, 2000).


• A study in the Netherlands showed that the use of EOBRs limits violations and improves driver’s attitudes, driving behavior and compliance with safety regulations.
(Wouters and J. Bos, 2000).

In a 1997 FHWA survey, 28% of surveyed drivers admitted falling asleep at the wheel during the previous month and one-third of those same drivers admitted falling asleep at the wheel as many as three to six times during the previous month.

• An Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) survey in 1992 showed that almost 75% of the 1249 truck drivers polled violated hours of service regulations.

• A University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) survey of tractor-trailer drivers revealed that truck drivers frequently drive longer than the 10 hour maximum permitted under current law. (UMTRI, 2000).


• According to a 2000 Insurance Research Council (IRC) study, 68% of Americans surveyed would pay more for goods and shipping to have truckers work no more than 12 hours in one day.

• The public does not believe that a new 24 hour cycle would reduce driver fatigue and increase truck safety. (IRC, 2000).

• Almost 70% of Americans surveyed strongly feel that data recorders on large trucks should be required. (IRC, 2000).

• A 1998 Lou Harris Poll indicated that 81% believe that sleep-deprived, sleepy truckers pose a serious safety problem.

• A 1997 Parade Magazine poll showed a groundswell of American opposition to any increase in truck driver hours – more than 86% said “No” to more truck driving time.

© 2001 Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety
750 First St. NE, Suite 901, Washington, DC 20002 Phone: 202 / 408-1711 Fax: 202 / 408-1699

If you have been injured in a truck accident, call us at DLP. Our experienced team of lawyers will work hard to secure the appropriate compensation for any injuries you may have suffered as a result of truck driver negligence. Call us at 1-(877)- DLP-9700 or check out our website at
Thomas P. Cummings, Esquire

Joe Price
Attorney Joe Price is a seasoned Trial Lawyer serving Northeast, Central and Southeast Pennsylvania for the past forty (40) years. He has handled serious personal injury cases in courts throughout the Federal system including New Jersey and New York. Attorney Price is A.V. Rated by Martindale Hubble. He is Board Certified in Civil Practice by the National Board of Trial Advocacy since 1996.