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Traffic research veteran: driver fatigue is a complicated issue

Driver fatigue is a major concern in the trucking industry. Regulators, trucking companies, drivers, safety officials and other concerned parties are constantly trying to find the right balance where hours of services rules are concerned. The longer drivers work, the more tired they become which means more accidents are caused and other drivers are injured, right?

Well, driver fatigue is a bit more complicated than that, said Dr. Ron Knipling, the president of the consulting firm Safety for the Long Haul Inc. First of all, driver fatigue is dependent on a number of factors and doesn’t affect everyone in the same way. Knipling cited data from the Department of Transportation’s 1996 Driver Fatigue Alertness Study showing that there were a disproportionate number of fatigue incidents to drivers that suffered fatigue.

Of all of the drowsy driving periods recorded in the study, 54 percent were suffered by only 14 percent of the drivers. Personal health, circadian rhythm, job monotony and other factors contribute on an individual level. In fact, a single driver experienced more sleepy episodes behind the wheel than 49 percent of the drivers considered to be the best.

Contrary to what some might think, it is actually the fatigued truck driver that most often suffers injury. Another study, the Large Truck Crash Causation Study that was conducted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration found that only 0.4 percent of multi-vehicle crashes were caused by a driver that fell asleep at the wheel. About 13 percent of single-vehicle crashes involved a drowsy driver.

Another assumption that is often made is that these accidents occur at the end of a shift, but the exact opposite seems to be true. According to the LTCCS, 70 percent of all truck accidents occur in the first 5 driving hours. When that number is increased to 7 hours, 85 percent of all accidents landed in that timeframe.

What happens when a truck driver is injured? Workers’ compensation can help cover the costs associated with an injury suffered on the job, but the claims process can be confusing and time-consuming in North Carolina. The guidance of an attorney can help ensure a smooth process free from unnecessary delays or denials.

Source: Fleet Owner, “Connecting driver health/fatigue to crash risk,” Sean Kilcarr, April 29, 2014

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