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Tractor Trailer Accidents

Each year, there are approximately 500,000 accidents in the United States involving large trucks/tractor- trailers, with 5,000 fatalities. In fact, 1 out of 8 traffic fatalities in America is due to a collision with a truck. Virtually all of these deaths and injuries are restricted to the passengers of the cars struck by tractor-trailers, while the truck drivers usually escaped unscathed. The fatal crash rate for trucks is 2.6 deaths per one hundred million miles traveled, a statistic more than 50 percent greater than the rate for other vehicles. As well, tractor trailers and trucks are more likey to be involved in multiple vehicle accidents, and eighty percent of all truck accidents include more than 1 vehicle.

The Federal government requires truck operators to have a commercial drivers license and undergo limited drug and alcohol testing. However, due to the continuing number of accidents, the effectiveness of these safety measures is questionable. Many accidents are caused by truck driver fatigue. In a recent survey, 20 percent of truck drivers admitted falling asleep while driving within a month of the questionnaire. For financial reasons truck drivers often stay on the road beyond the limits of human endurance.

In 2003, US Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) tightened regulations governing downtime for truck drivers in an effort to lower the accident rate. The compliance date was set to January 4, 2004. A complicated set of guidelines now governs how long drivers can stay on duty. The revised Hours of Service regulations permit truck drivers to drive eleven hours after ten consecutive hours off-duty. Truck drivers are not allowed to drive beyond the 14th hour after coming on-duty, following ten hours off-duty. Truck drivers may not to drive after being on-duty for sixty hours in a seven-consecutive-day period of time or even seventy hours in an eight-consecutive-day time period. This on-duty cycle can be restarted if a driver takes at least thirty-four consecutive hours off-duty. Short-haul truck drivers (those who routinely return to their place of dispatch after every shift and then are released from duty) may have an increased on-duty period of time of sixteen hours after a week of standard shifts. The 16-hour exception takes into consideration valid business needs without jeopardizing safety. FMCSA estimates that without the flexibility of additional 2 on-duty hours, the industry would have to hire at least 48,000 inexperienced new drivers, actually increasing the accident rate.

The FMCSA estimates the new rule has the potential to prevent 75 fatalities and approximately 1,326 crashes annually. However, studies reveal that many truck drivers violated the old regulations on hours of service, and without vigorous enforcement compliance with the new regulations will likely be poor as well.


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