As a St. Louis tractor-trailer crash lawyer, I was interested in a news item about the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation’s meeting with trucking industry agency leaders to discuss their oversight of motor carrier transportation. Senator Frank Lautenberg, D-NJ, chairman of the subcommittee on surface transportation, called for “universal installation” of electronic on-board recorders (EOBRs) in trucks and buses to improve public safety. As I’ve discussed here before, EOBRs would make it harder for truck drivers to get away with driving for more hours than they are legally allowed to. Hours of Service (HOS) regulations specify how long drivers may work before they are required to rest in order to reduce the likelihood that fatigued drivers will cause accidents that hurt or kill people.
Lautenberg pressed Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrator Anne Ferro to explain why only 1.3% of all trucking companies are being required to use EOBRs. As I wrote several weeks ago, the FMCSA is going to require trucking companies with a history of HOS rule-breaking to install EOBRs in 2012. Ferro told Lautenberg that the agency is working on a broader rule requiring EOBRs, but that it would take even longer to get that rule in place than it will to enact the narrower one taking effect in 2012. Meanwhile, Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association vice president Todd Spencer insists that EOBRs have nothing to do with public safety. EOBRs “can’t tell if a driver is sleepy, they can’t tell if a driver needs to rest, they can’t tell whether a driver is off duty or whether he’s physically handling 44,000 pounds of cargo. They are no more reliable than the paper logs that they would replace,” he said.
Of course, records produced by EOBRs are much less likely to be falsified, which is the whole point of using them. The existing paper logs often are riddled with errors and falsehoods, because drivers want to make more money by getting to their destinations faster, or are pressured by their employers to do so. That sometimes means not taking mandated rest periods, which means they arrive over-tired and sometimes unsafe. Truck drivers are currently allowed to drive 77 hours per week, which is almost twice as long as most people work. In contrast, airline pilots are allowed to fly only 30 hours per week, which is undoubtedly one of the factors making airplanes one of the safest forms of transportation in the United States. Fatigued truck drivers who fell asleep at the wheel, along with drivers who suffered heart attacks while driving, caused 12% of fatal crashes in which truck drivers were at fault, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Large Truck Crash Causation Study.
Truck drivers and the companies that employ them have a legal responsibility to comply with HOS rules and to recognize when drivers are too fatigued to continue driving — even if HOS rules would let them. They just shouldn’t be driving at all if they are too tired to be alert and safe on the roads. Eighteen-wheelers require greater stopping distance than passenger cars do because they are so much heavier. That means that a truck driver needs to be awake enough to pay careful attention to traffic conditions at all times — otherwise, he or she could cause a horrific crash. As a Missouri semi truck accident lawyer, I certainly don’t want to see any more wrecks like the one that killed three people and injured fourteen here in St. Louis in July of 2008, or last year’s tragedy in eastern Oklahoma, which caused nine fatalities.
If truck drivers decide to drive while fatigued or their trucking companies pressure them to do so, and they cause a crash, both can be held legally and financially responsible for the injuries and costs that result. State laws give every driver a legal responsibility to take reasonable care on the road, and that includes commercial drivers responsible for ten-ton semi trucks. Victims of these crashes should call an experienced southern Illinois eighteen-wheeler crash attorney to recover damages and costs caused by the negligent truck driver. Medical costs, replacement or repair of your vehicle, past and future lost wages, lost quality of life, and wrongful death are among the things for which at-fault truck drivers can be sued. A knowledgeable attorney can gather evidence from the truck’s EOBR or written log, along with other information about the crash, to demonstrate that the truck driver was at fault. Because this evidence can and sometimes is destroyed, it is important to contact a lawyer right away if you have been in an accident with a large truck.
If you or a loved one have been hurt in a wreck caused by a fatigued truck driver, please call the Lowe Law Firm to learn how we can help you. You can call us at 877-678-3400, or send us a message online.