In August 2015, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration announced that a truck driver had been awake for 28 hours before he caused a deadly crash in 2014. The sleep-deprived driver was speeding in a construction zone when he rear-ended comedian Tracy Morgan’s limousine-van, killing one of the occupants and seriously injuring Morgan.
The NHTSA found that truck driver Kevin Roper had driven 800 miles overnight, from Georgia to Delaware, where he picked up a load and returned to driving without resting. He was traveling 65 mph when he crashed into Morgan’s vehicle, in a construction zone where the speed limit was 45 mph. An investigator said that if Roper had obeyed the speed limit and braked, he would have avoided the crash.
The crash has brought into focus a danger on U.S. roads – truck driver fatigue. Despite laws that limit on-the-road hours for drivers and mandate rest breaks, fatigue is still a major factor in serious and fatal crashes, like the one that occurred in Chattanooga this year. In that crash, the NHTSA found the driver had been on duty for 50 consecutive hours, and under the influence of drugs, when he caused a fatal construction-zone crash.
Truck drivers and bus drivers, some say, may be pushing themselves too far, in order to meet employer demands. And they may not even recognize when they’re overly tired.
Reasons for Fatigue
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has shut down numerous trucking companies for violations of federal laws, including a blatant disregard for hours-of-service requirements. Companies are required to make sure their drivers comply with hours-of-service rules. But some companies don’t respect those rules and turn a blind eye to driver safety.
Ed Wytkind, president of the AFL-CIO labor union said the bus industry is especially at risk for fatigued driving. He told the publication The Hill that employer demands force bus drivers to skip breaks and drive excessive hours.
In 2014, the FMCSA shut down two passenger carriers for numerous violations, including failing to properly maintain their bus fleet and failing to monitor and enforce hours-of-service requirements. That kind of reckless disregard for safety puts passengers in immediate danger.
In June 2012, a tour bus returning from a casino trip overturned in the Bronx after the driver fell asleep at the wheel. The crash killed 15 people and injured seven. Investigators later learned the driver had barely slept in the three days before the crash and that his employer had not tracked his driving logs.
Unscrupulous business owners who fail to follow federal laws should be held accountable for their actions.
Drowsy driving isn’t necessarily the result of working excessive hours. Anyone can lose focus behind the wheel – and without even realizing it. That’s when technology may be able to help.
A report released in 2012 found that on-board sensors that alert drivers to their own drowsiness can be effective in preventing crashes. Researchers tested several methods of drowsiness detection in laboratory simulations, including systems that rely on a driver’s eye movement and those that measure vehicle changes, such as lane departure or a rapid increase in speed. Researchers concluded the most effective anti-drowsiness alert system would be one that uses electrodes to measure physiological changes associated with drowsiness. The challenge may be in developing that technology in a way that it is not intrusive or irritating for drivers.
This article was submitted by John R. Colvin, Attorney at Law, who has successfully represented injured clients throughout Tennessee and Alabama who have been seriously hurt in truck and bus crashes. For more information regarding the Tracy Morgan accident, see our article here.