Did you know that driver fatigue is considered a factor in 13% of all truck crashes? Semi-truck drivers suffer from driver fatigue more than any other group since they spend hours on the road, traveling large distances daily.
While there are ways to prevent driver fatigue such as driving shorter distances or taking ample breaks knowing the laws and regulations surrounding semi-truck driver fatigue are not only helpful but potentially life-saving.
So, if you’re a semi-truck driver in Houston, Texas and you want to learn more about truck driving regulations, truck driver fatigue laws, and how to enlist the help of a semi-truck accident lawyer, you’ve come to the right place. In this guide, you’ll learn exactly what driver fatigue is, the most important driver fatigue laws for drivers in Houston, and more.
What is Driver Fatigue?
While it may seem self-explanatory, driver fatigue is when your driving is impaired due to a lack of rest. And with so many people (not just semi-truck drivers) getting less than the recommended 7 hours of sleep, it’s more common than you think.
Causes of Driver Fatigue
Fatigue can be caused by not getting consistent rest over many days, staying awake for a consecutive time, completing monotonous tasks with little to no breaks, or simply the time of day since everyone’s body has its own sleep and wake cycle.
Some of the effects of driver fatigue include nodding off while behind the wheel (arguably one of the most dangerous effects), having slower reaction times to road conditions or other drivers, drifting or swerving from your lane, failing to remember how long you’ve been driving for or the miles you’ve driven and even experiencing a strange phenomenon called “microsleeps”.
Microsleeps are brief periods where you fall asleep for as short as a fraction of a second to as long as 30 seconds. And when you’re behind the wheel of a truck, that short amount of time can be the difference between life and death.
How to Prevent Semi-Truck Driver Fatigue
Driver fatigue is considered one of the main causes of 18-wheeler truck accidents. Semi-truck drivers are a unique group because, unlike most people who drive, semi-truck drivers, spend periods of time on the road. They usually don’t get many breaks and have to cover major distances in the span of a few hours or a few days. This presents a dangerous situation where many semi-truck drivers suffer from fatigue, putting themselves and others at risk of a car wreck or accident.
To prevent semi-truck driver fatigue, it’s helpful to first make sure you’re getting adequate rest before your shift. The CDC recommends adults get around 7 hours of rest a night for optimal functioning and performance so by making sure you get a quality night of rest, you’re already taking one positive step towards preventing driver fatigue.
Besides getting quality rest, it’s also helpful to take short breaks from driving every couple of hours. Listen to your body. So, if you’re feeling drowsy or distracted, pull over, take a short break, and grab a snack, water, or a cup of coffee to energize yourself.
Employers can also help prevent driver fatigue by enacting policies that set overtime limits and limits on the maximum number of consecutive shifts a semi-truck driver can complete. It’s also important to train incident investigators on how to recognize the role driver fatigue plays in truck accidents so that there’s more awareness on just how fatal driver fatigue can be.
History of Truck Driver Fatigue
Before digging in to the exact semi-truck driver fatigue laws and regulations, it’s helpful to first have an understanding of the history of truck driver fatigue.
Oftentimes, driver fatigue is likened to being under the influence of drugs or alcohol. So, it’s no surprise that the FMCSA found in a study that 13 percent of commercial drivers in truck accidents were found to be fatigued when they crashed.
In Texas alone, more than 33,000 motor vehicle accidents were reported in 2014. These accidents resulted in personal injuries. And in Houston, Texas specifically, nearly 6,000 accidents were recorded in Harris county in 2017and that’s just the amount that was recorded.
Houston covers a large area which is why the area is prone to truck accidents. 1-40a major highway in Houston, Texas is considered one of the most dangerous freeways in all of Texas. Not only that but Harris county (home to Houston) is also known to have one of the highest numbers of injuries when it comes to truck accidents.
These statistics demonstrate the importance of understanding semi-truck driver fatigue laws and regulations.
Semi-Truck Driver Fatigue Laws and Regulations in Houston, Texas
So, what laws exist in Houston, Texas when it comes to truck drivers and driver fatigue? Below is a breakdown of some of the most important.
1). Part 395 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations is a group of safety rules that focuses on all things to do with truck driver safety. Some of these rules have to do with things like ensuring the maintenance truck drivers perform on their vehicles complies with certain safety requirements as well as certain types of safety training offered to drivers.
However, part 395 is specifically made to help combat driver fatigue. How? Known as the “Hours of Service” regulation, part 395 places a limit on the amount of time a truck driver can drive over 24 hours.
2). 14-Hour Driving Limit
Another key semi-truck driver fatigue law is the 14-hour driving window limit. The Hours of Service Regulation enacted this law to prevent truck drivers from staying on the road for more than 11 consecutive hours during a 14-hour period.
In other words, this law states that truck drivers must allocate at least 3 hours of that 14-hour window off the road. And, when they return to driving, they cannot drive for more than 11 hours straight.
The one key issue with this law, though, is that the Hours of Service Regulation don’t mandate the truck driver to get any rest during this break time so hypothetically, a truck driver could stay awake for longer than is considered safe (more than 24 hours).
3). 70-Hour Limit
Coming back to the Federal Hours of Service Regulations, this law focuses on limiting the number of hours a truck driver can drive every week. It limits their time to 70 hours of on-duty time, otherwise known as time spent driving.
This law is pretty simple. Once a truck driver has reached 70 cumulative hours of driving time, their work week is done. The law then requires the truck driver to spend the next 34 hours off the roads. This gives the truck driver time to rest, take a break from the road, and reset before beginning their next shift.
4). Track On-Duty and Off-Duty Time
All of these laws are safe and helpful, but they don’t mean much if truck drivers have no way to record their comings and goings. This law addresses that exact issue.
Under this law, truck drivers must record every 15-minute interval of time they spend either driving or off-duty to keep their status as truck drivers. They can log these intervals in an electronic logbook.
Then, the House of Service Regulations reviews, enforces, and audits the logs for the trucking company to ensure drivers are taking breaks when they’re supposed to. These logs are also crucial pieces of evidence when it comes to truck accidents because they let authorities know what kind of factors might’ve been at play during the time of the accident (like fatigue).
Similarly, should a truck driver get pulled over or become involved in any sort of accident or collision, police officers will ask for a copy of these logs. And if they find that the logs aren’t accurate or up to date, the driver is suspended from the road and the trucking company is fired.
Contact a Semi-Truck Accident Lawyer Today
Hopefully, you now have a solid understanding of what driver fatigue is, the different semi-truck driver fatigue laws, and why these laws matter. If you’re a semi-truck driver, know that your safety is of the utmost importance not only to you, but to the drivers around you. The best way to ensure that is to follow these laws and get rest when you need it so you can avoid the dreaded driver fatigue.
If you’ve been affected by a semi-truck driver accident, schedule a consultation with O’Hara Law Firm. They specialize in semi-truck accidents in Houston, Texas, and can help move your case forward.