While federal regulations limit the amount of time a truck driver can spend behind the wheel in any given day, as well as weekly totals, those regulations still allow truckers to spend far more time per day driving than most people ever do, certainly on a daily basis. Truckers can spend up to 11 hours driving in a day, but that can be extended if there is adverse weather. Truckers are allowed to spend more time per week driving – up to 60 hours in 7 days — than most other people spend at work. Napping briefly at your desk might not win you points with your boss, but the consequences for napping behind the wheel, even briefly, are much more serious.
Driver Fatigue Negatively Affects Performance, Safety
Studies of the effects of fatigue on truck drivers indicate that driving while tired has a number of negative impacts on driving performance, including:
- A slowing of reaction times
- Reduced ability to pay attention to the road and traffic conditions
- Making decisions poorly or too slowly in critical driving situations
Driver fatigue and its impacts on performance increase the risks of tired truck drivers being involved in traffic accidents. Because truckers frequently are paid per mile, and almost always have tight delivery deadlines, they tend to drive the maximum amount allowed by federal regulations. That amount of driving day after day results in tired drivers making poor decisions that result in potentially fatal driving errors. Unfortunately, trucker fatigue is fairly widespread. One study found that at least two-thirds of truck drivers admit to being fatigued while behind the wheel on about half of their trips.
One federal study estimated that 13% of truck drivers involved in fatal traffic accidents were fatigued at the time of the accident. Further, fatigue on the part of truck drivers is believed to be a factor in as many as about 100,000 traffic accidents annually, leading to roughly 1,500 traffic deaths each year. Other studies have estimated that truck driver fatigue might be a factor in up to 40% of accidents involving commercial trucks.
Considering the regulations on how much time truck drivers can spend on the road without rest, at first blush it might be hard to believe the problem of fatigued drivers is widespread. On the other hand, most people who drive for 11 hours in a single day would admit to being tired at the end of it. Do that for several days in a row, and most people would be exhausted. Considering how their livelihood depends on such extended hours of driving day after day, though, it is not surprising many truck drivers would not want to admit to being tired if they were involved in an accident. Police do not generally ask such questions at accident scenes, so there is a scarcity of reliable data on the matter. Studies and estimates provide the main window into the problem of fatigued truck drivers and how great the extent of the problem is.