You’ve probably seen campaigns to raise awareness about texting and driving or driving while intoxicated, but how many have you seen about driving while drowsy?
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), fatigued driving was directly responsible for 846 deaths in 2014 and 83,000 crashes between 2005 and 2009. Drowsy driving is a serious issue that “mimics alcohol-impaired driving in many ways” with symptoms such as slower reaction times, impaired judgment, and delayed mental processing.
Although drowsy driving can affect anyone, the problem of drowsy driving among semi truck drivers in particular has received national focus for many years.
Hours of Service Regulations
First, let’s take a look at the rules that are already in place to try to discourage drowsy driving among semi truck drivers. The first Hours of Service regulations were issued for commercial drivers in 1938 by the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC). Over the years, the ICC updated the regulations until the ICC was abolished in 1995 and replaced by the Federal Highway Administration. Out of the Federal Highway Administration came the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in 1999, which released new Hours of Service regulations in 1999 and again in 2003. These regulations were recently revised in 2011.
Today, the Hours of Service regulations for truck drivers include the following rules for property-carrying drivers:
- Maximum of 11 hours driving after 10 consecutive hours off duty.
- Cannot drive beyond the fourteenth consecutive hour after coming on duty.
- Maximum of 8 hours between sleeper berth periods (rest breaks) of at least 30 minutes or time off duty.
- May not drive 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days. A driver may restart a 7/8 consecutive day period after taking 34 or more consecutive hours off duty.
- Must take at least 8 consecutive hours in the sleeper berth (if using one), plus a separate 2 consecutive hours either in the sleeper berth, off duty, or a combination of both.
Truck Drivers and Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea among truck drivers recently gained national spotlight when the U.S. Supreme Court decided in April not to hear a case from a truck driver who claimed that his rights were violated when a trucking company required him to be tested for sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which a person pauses in breathing while sleeping. Treatment often involves using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine that involves a mask a person wears on their face to ensure a continuous flow of oxygen to their lungs through the night.
Sleep apnea can make it difficult to get a good night’s sleep, which is why trucking companies don’t want to risk employing drivers with sleep apnea who, even after adhering to the Hours of Service regulations, may still be too drowsy to drive safely.
According to the Mayo Clinic, risk factors for sleep apnea can include excess weight and smoking. The lifestyle of a truck driver—including limited access to healthy food options, limited physical exercise, sitting for hours at a time, and unpredictable sleep patterns—encourages some of these risk factors. Sleep apnea is also most likely to occur in older men and that is the trucking industry’s core demographic: 94.9 percent of truck drivers are male, and 55.5 percent of all trucking employees in 2014 were 45 or older.
The FMCSA sponsored its own study and found that 28 percent of all commercial truck drivers have mild to severe sleep apnea.
Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health reported last year that truck drivers with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), the most common type of sleep apnea, had a rate of preventable crashes five times higher than the rate among truck drivers without OSA. Stefanos Kales, associate professor at Harvard Chan School and senior author of the study, also noted that estimates suggest that 20 percent of all large truck crashes are the result of drowsy driving.
Currently, there are no federal regulations for tracking or treating sleep apnea among workers in the transportation industry. However, the FMCSA does forbid a person from operating a commercial truck if a medical condition, including sleep apnea, affects his or her ability to drive safely. A driver’s sleep apnea must be moderate to severe in order to be disqualifying, according to the FMCSA.
Because the Supreme Court refused to hear the truck driver’s case, trucking companies can expect to continue testing drivers for sleep apnea without fear of legal consequences.
Help from an Indiana Semi Truck Accident Attorney
Despite the Hours of Service regulations and testing for sleep apnea among truck drivers, some drivers still operate their vehicles while drowsy—sometimes with devastating consequences. If you or your loved ones were in an accident with a semi truck due to a truck driver’s drowsy driving, Hensley Legal Group can help. Call us today or contact us online for a free case review.