Trucking Company Coercion Frequently Leads to Driver Fatigue

Imagine driving a tractor-trailer for 20 hours over a long, boring stretch of highway. You were supposed to stop for sleep hours ago, but the company threatened to fire you if you didn’t keep driving. Despite your best efforts, your eyelids feel like lead, and you start to doze off. Suddenly, there are brake lights ahead. Would you be able to stop in time?

Sometimes, unethical trucking companies put honest, hardworking truck drivers in exactly these types of dangerous situations. They must choose between driving longer than they should or losing their jobs, their trucks, and their livelihoods.

When a serious trucking accident occurs because of this kind of illegal behavior and you or someone you love suffers, you might have valid claims for compensation against the company. Read on to learn more about how trucking company coercion causes driver fatigue and what you can do if you’ve been affected.

How Does Driver Fatigue Cause Truck Wrecks?

Official estimates from government agencies show that driver fatigue causes about 100,000 motor vehicle crashes each year and about 6,000 deaths.

Fatigue impacts your ability to drive in many ways, including lowering your response time, shortening your attention span, and impairing your judgment. When you’re behind the wheel and traveling at highway speeds, even shutting your eyes for a few seconds can lead to a devastating crash.

RELATED ARTICLE: Truckers Have Higher Fatal Injury Rates Than Any Other Job

According to some studies, driving after 20 straight hours behind the wheel is like driving with a 0.08% blood-alcohol content (BAC), which is the legal standard for intoxicated driving. Fatigued drivers experience short-term memory loss, decreased concentration, poor speed control, and slower response times. Even when you drive for shorter periods, fatigue and drowsiness can triple your risk for a collision.

Federal Law Limits the Number of Hours Truckers Can Drive

Truck drivers are especially at risk of fatigue because of the long, repetitive driving shifts they pull. Due to the crash risk associated with driver fatigue, the federal government imposes limits on the number of hours truck drivers can operate their tractor-trailers. Today, federal hours-of-service (HOS) rules typically limit truck drivers to no more than 11 hours of driving in a 14-hour period. After that, they must rest for 10 hours before hitting the road again.

Unfortunately, the tight margins and competitive nature of the trucking business (as well as old-fashioned greed) lead some companies to bend the rules and put their drivers at risk. Unscrupulous trucking companies, shippers, and other businesses pressure truck drivers to violate the HOS rules so they can squeeze out extra profits. When truck drivers resist these efforts, the companies sometimes try to coerce them with threats of lost income, reduced hours, or even termination.

It’s Illegal for Trucking Companies to Pressure Their Drivers to Break the Rules

In 2015, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) passed coercion rules that prohibit trucking companies from pressuring drivers to violate HOS rules and other regulations. The law allows the FMCSA to fine companies up to $16,000 for each violation. However, it’s clear that dishonest trucking companies are still encouraging their drivers to break state and federal safety rules.

RELATED ARTICLE: 3 Ways for Truck Drivers to Report Unsafe Trucking Companies

In 2017, reporters at USA Today said they found widespread violations of HOS rules among trucking companies in Los Angeles. The reporters found that multiple companies pressured their drivers to drive for up to 20 hours a day, 6 days a week.

If drivers objected, the companies threatened them with termination, suspension, decreased income, and the loss of their trucks. According to USA Today, this pattern of employer coercion and fatigue contributed to a series of fatal truck wrecks in the Los Angeles area.

While the USA Today story highlights an extreme case of widespread truck driver coercion, many trucking companies use subtler methods to encourage their drivers to break the rules. Most companies pay their drivers by the mile, which incentivizes them to travel long distances in the shortest possible time. And companies typically give the most “efficient” drivers the best, most profitable routes, regardless of which rules those drivers break to achieve their speed.

How an Attorney Can Prove Hours-of-Service Violations After a Truck Wreck

When truck drivers maintain paper logbooks, it’s relatively easy for them to falsify their logs so they can break HOS rules. With today’s electronic logbooks, however, it’s harder to hide inconsistencies—especially if you know where to look for them.

A skilled truck wreck lawyer should be able to identify whether hours-of-service violations contributed to a crash by studying:

  • GPS, cellular, and telemetric data
  • Gas and food receipts
  • Shipping records and bills of lading
  • Truck maintenance and inspection records

Sometimes, a truck driver will admit to violations during deposition or in court. If you and your attorney can prove that the trucking company or truck driver violated a state or federal regulation, this can supply powerful evidence in your truck wreck claim.

RELATED ARTICLE: Hit by a Truck Driver? They May Have Broken Rules and Regulations

However, trucking companies don’t have to keep logbooks and other evidence forever. After six months, a trucking company can legally destroy an hours-of-service logbook, and many trucking companies will automatically purge these records after that time. Companies are supposed to keep records indefinitely if they’re related to a truck crash, but as we’ve seen, many companies have little regard for the rules, so they may destroy important evidence anyway.

This is why it’s extremely important to get in touch with an experienced truck accident lawyer right away after a crash. Your lawyer can help preserve critical evidence with a timely preservation letter, but there’s no time to waste, so contact an attorney now if you’ve been injured or if someone you love has been hurt or even killed in a trucking accident.

Injured in a Truck Accident? Contact Seattle Truck Law Today

If you’ve suffered injuries or even lost a loved one in a devastating truck crash, Seattle Truck Law Attorney Morgan Adams is here to help. With years of experience and a sole focus on large vehicle cases, Morgan Adams has the experience and resources needed to guide you through a complex trucking accident claim and fight for justice on your behalf.

Please contact the Seattle Truck Law team at (866) 580-4878 or fill out our online contact form if you need help. We offer free initial consultations so we can review your case at no cost to you, and we handle cases on a contingent fee basis, which means that you won’t pay attorney’s fees unless we achieve a financial recovery on your behalf.

References

Drowsy driving is impaired driving. (2018). National Safety Council. Retrieved from https://www.nsc.org/road-safety/safety-topics/fatigued-driving

Murphy, B. (2017, December 28). Asleep at the wheel: Companies risk lives by putting sleep-deprived port truckers on the road. USA Today. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/pages/interactives/news/rigged-asleep-at-the-wheel/

Prohibiting coercion of commercial drivers, 80 Fed. Reg. 74695 (2015, November 30). Retrieved from https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2015-11-30/pdf/2015-30237.pdf

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.

Leave a Comment