A colleague was having dinner with a truck driver recently who shared an alarming story. He recounted the time he had driven more than 18 hours in order to make a deadline. He was so tired that he began to hallucinate while driving on the highway! The truck driver thought that was funny. My colleague did not.
It’s clear the truck driver has never been in a North Carolina courtroom representing an extended family whose lives changed in an instant when some of the family members were killed as a fatigued big-rig driver slammed into their vehicle.
I have a great deal of respect for most truck drivers. Having handled my share of big-rig cases, I can tell you from experience that fatigued drivers are almost always an issue. A big one.
Fatigued Truckers a Major Factor in Accidents
A U.S. Department of Transportation study states that 41% of serious tractor-trailer crashes in the country were caused by fatigued truck drivers, as reported by WNCN.com.
You might remember the two 18-wheeler crashes near the Triangle almost back to back last fall. A tractor-trailer flipped over on I-85 near Hillsboro spewing a load of bananas across the highway. Driver fatigue was the cause. A bridge on I-95 near Smithfield was closed for two weeks when a tractor-trailer rammed into the bridge’s support columns ripping the truck apart and throwing frozen chickens all over the highway. Fatigue, again a factor.
To compound the issue, a U.S. Department of Transportation article suggests that among the most dangerous elements of fatigue is its ability to sneak up on any driver, not just truck drivers. They evaluated research that showed that truck drivers (like any driver) often can’t assess their own fatigue levels accurately and are unaware of their failing performance behind the wheel, such as drifting between lanes. A driver who drifts off to sleep for just three seconds traveling 65 miles an hour will travel the length of a football field.
Many truckers, themselves, are frustrated by the fatigue issue, blaming it on an industry where 60- to 80-hour workweeks are the norm and even expected. One trucker cited rules written by “a pencil pushing college graduate [who has] never even been in a truck” and trucking industry lobbyists for refusing to adequately address the issues of driver fatigue.
So what can we do to help ourselves try to stay safe around big rigs?
“One of the hardest parts of being a professional driver, is trying to guess what the guy in the car is going to do next,” offers truck driver and author of a safety article on smart-trucking.com. Here, excerpted from that article, is some simple common sense safety advice on how to share the road more safely with tractor-trailers.
How to Drive Near 18-Wheelers
- Do not travel close to a big rig if at all possible. They require a lot of time and distance to stop safely simply due to their size and weight.
- Stay out of blind spots. Truckers have a lot of them. Directly in front of the truck (because of the long hood). Directly behind the truck. And especially on the right side of the truck. Truck drivers can see you best when you’re on the driver’s side of the truck.
- Do not pass a truck on the right side if possible. The driver is not expecting this. And try not to drive along the right side of the truck because of the large blind spot.
- Don’t travel too closely behind a truck. The driver cannot see cars that are directly behind them. You’ve probably seen cars “drafting” behind trucks. Never do this. Ever. If the truck stops, you’re probably going right underneath that truck in what is known as an underride. Underrides often lead to decapitation.
- Do not pass a truck, pull directly in front of it, and then immediately slow down. It is difficult for the trucker to see cars over its long hood. This could result in what is known as an override. An override occurs when the truck is unable to slow down fast enough and it is forced on top of the car in front.
- Stay away from trucks when they are turning, especially when they are making a right turn. As the trailer follows the truck around a corner, the trailer closes in and will crush anything that gets in the way. There’s a great deal of weight and momentum, which could cause the trailer to track over anything in its path.
- If it’s necessary to pass a tractor trailer, pass on the left. Pass the rig quickly, maintaining a consistent speed, and move away from it. The closer you are to the truck, the more potential there is for risk.
- In general, try to avoid driving close to large tractor trailers period.
- Avoid making sudden moves in the vicinity of trucks. Move slowly and be predictable with your actions. If you need to change lanes or turn, signal well in advance. Change lanes or make your turn when you are away from the truck, where the driver can see you, and clearly see what your intentions are. Signal well in advance of a move, so the truck driver isn’t trying to guess what your next move is.
- I would add to this writer/trucker’s list to be courteous. Having represented many individuals involved in trucking accidents, I have met many truck drivers who are diligent and hard-working people working in an industry that can be very hard on you physically and mentally. These are service industry workers who ship fresh produce from farm to table. They are the mail carriers and gas carriers and carriers of merchandise. They work long hours and are away from their families, sometimes for long periods.
NC Truck Accident Lawyers Offer Free Case Evaluation