The American Truck Driving Association estimates that there are 3.5 million licensed truck drivers in the United States, and more than 15 million vehicles responsible for cartage of consumer goods, commercial and industrial supplies, and food and grocery items. Did you know that almost 70 percent of all freight that moves within the United States is transported by commercial trucks, and Class 8 trucks (18-wheel or more) are responsible for distributing more than 9.2 billion tons of freight every year?
The American economy is heavily reliant on truck drivers and logistics companies to supply goods and keep the engines of manufacturing running. Yet, every year, more than 40,000 deaths occur due to distracted truck driver accidents and thousands of personal injuries from motor vehicle collisions in the United States. Statistics reveal a strong link between driver exhaustion and accident rates.
What needs to change to protect truck drivers from becoming another statistic, as accident rates continue to climb? We will look at some of the risk factors, including the culture and compensation structure for independent drivers, and what the government is doing to more closely regulate and reduce accidents and injuries for truckers.
Injuries and Fatalities Involving American Truck Drivers
If you have ever driven past a serious collision on a highway involving one or more Class 8 trucks, you have witnessed how several engineering and physics factors contribute to significant injury or fatalities every time a large commercial truck is involved. Even though the trucks are equipped with heavy-duty air brakes and frequently with electronic assisted braking with artificial intelligence software (in newer models), stopping a fast-moving truck is far more difficult than it looks.
While truck drivers are professionally trained and certified, the dynamic of the vehicle design, combined with its weight, reduces the maneuverability of the vehicle, while increasing the brake time it takes to arrive at a complete stop. Professional truck drivers wish that the public would understand these two factors when passing or pulling in front of a truck on a highway to reduce risks.
The United States Department of Transportation estimates that there are 500,000 commercial truck accidents every year. When a trucker is involved in an accident, the injury and fatality rate is usually quite high – given the weight of the load and the size of the vehicle – compared to other cars or SUVs on the road. Despite advances in the truck technology, including airbags, assisted brakes, and other features (on new trucks only), the number of occupational injuries in 2014 for truck drivers was the highest it had been since 2008.
Are Tougher Traffic Safety Laws in Order for the Trucking Industry?
While driver certification is mandatory to achieve a Class CDL license (truck and trailer), there are different levels of experience required depending on the weight of cartage and the type of freight being carried.
- Class A CDL is required for drivers who intend to tow or pull more than 10,000 lbs. for a combined vehicle and freight weight of no more than 26,000 lbs. This can include tanker vehicles, truck and trailer combinations, livestock carriers, and flatbed trailers.
- Class B CDL licensing is required for a single vehicle with a net weight tow of 26,001 lbs. or heavier. This license requires an endorsement, or specific training for different types of vehicles, including municipal or tourist buses, school buses, segmented buses, or box shaped commercial delivery trucks and dump trucks.
- Class C CDL licensing is needed for freight that is hazardous, flammable, or that requires extra care. This includes passenger vehicles with 16 passengers (including driver) or more, HAZMAT materials (with Federal transportation guidelines), medical materials or waste, and combination vehicles not outlined in the Class B or A licenses.
One of the gaps in the licensure and training for commercial truck drivers is the standardized testing that is required to become certified for employment within the industry. While CDL training program lengths are mandated by state and federal agencies to be about seven weeks in duration (five days per week), there are other alternatives for individuals who wish to be licensed more quickly, or who cannot attend day classes due to full-time employment.
Night school for truck drivers is often held in substandard training facilities that allow students to shorten the training length by claiming a condensed study, placing inexperienced drivers on the road with, in some cases, as little as four weeks of training. And that’s a problem.
The Law Limits Hours While Many Truckers Find Loopholes to Exceed Them
Per the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, a commercial truck driver may only drive up to 11 hours in every 14 consecutive hours of duty. Drivers may also not drive without a break in between shifts, and they are required by law to be off duty. A minimum of 34 hours per week of rest and non-duty are also required legally to ensure that truckers are not driving while exhausted.
Advances in technology within the trucking industry have now required drivers to electronically log their on and off duty hours, even though there was significant push-back from the industry – partially due to the cost of the e-log’s (ELDs) and because most suspect that paper logs have allowed the industry to overtax drivers in terms of working longer hours for incentives, while pushing the limit of safe driving. The new ELD law took effect January 1, 2017.
Distracted Driving and Commercial Truckers
From updating an ELD to using a dispatch radio, there are several electronic devices that can quickly distract a truck driver and cause a collision. The U.S. Department of Transportation emphasizes how quickly a motor vehicle collision can occur when a driver is distracted by a telephone conversation. Nonetheless, as long-haul truckers are frequently speaking with family members or dispatch, distracted driving remains a statistical cause of many avoidable injuries and driver fatalities. Many distracted truck driver accidents happen because of a telephone conversation.
As truck drivers and the trucking industry are an irreplaceable aspect of the American economy, strengthening driver education and certification – and providing continuing re-certification requirements – may help to stem the rising accident and fatality rates and improve highway safety.
Author Bio: Adam Willfond is a devoted and an enthusiastic personal injury lawyer at Jacobs Law LLC., based in Indiana. His practice revolves around all sorts of personal injury cases including car accident, truck accident and many more, to help injury victims. He is also capable of handling all aspects of criminal cases to ensure that those who have been charged with serious criminal offenses get their lawful rights.