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Why Overnight Tractor Trailer Driving Trips Are Risky

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Why Overnight Tractor Trailer Driving Trips Are Risky

tractor trailer accident at night

The truck involved” by Highway Patrol Images is licensed under CC BY 2.0

While there are many reasons truck drivers are on the road during the night, safety considerations make these trips risky. Fatigued truckers equal deadly consequences. Tractor-trailer accident statistics show this time of the day can be dangerous, both for the driver and for other motorists on the road. When more accidents happen, more injuries and deaths can result that devastate families and loved ones. In 2012, there were 330,000 large truck accidents resulting in 104,000 injuries and 3,921 deaths. Think of it as 11 fatalities every day caused by truck accidents.

You can probably guess some of the reasons semi-trailer operators choose to drive at night. Traffic is significantly less than during the day. Most motorists and commuters are in bed, freeing up roads and highways that are normally congested in daylight. Many truck drivers find overnight trips to be the most productive. Still other truck drivers are motivated by their paycheck. Truck drivers work with deadlines and are given bonuses for completing trips under tight schedules.

To understand the severity of this issue, one only has to look at the recent provision passed by Congress that will ease the very trucker scheduling regulations that were designed to prevent fatalities. The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) President Larry Hanley responded in a statement about the provision to weaken the truck driver overnight scheduling rule: [It is] “an immoral effort to strip users of our roads of their right to safe passage and a death sentence for truck drivers, bus drivers and others. This is a very dangerous move by Congress that will result in more deaths and gruesome injuries on our nation’s highways. The safety and security of Americans should come first for our nation’s lawmakers. This is immoral and if it passes Congress will have blood on their hands.” Congressional leaders reached a deal earlier in December on a spending package that would fund most of the federal government through the next fiscal year which included the provision to lessen the requirements for trucker scheduling.

Here are the top factors that demonstrate why overnight tractor-trailer driving trips are hazardous, even when extra precautions are taken.

Fatigue Is A Top Factor Involved With Tractor Trailer Accidents

Various studies have attempted to identify exactly how fatigue affects driving and it’s clear that it’s a factor for all drivers. Operating a vehicle for long periods of time impacts drivers of standard cars and commercial trucks, and this is especially true at night. It is difficult to put a number on how many accidents are caused by fatigue because drivers are often alert after a crash due to adrenaline and may not appear tired. The world’s leading sleep experts agree that fatigue is the largest identifiable and preventable cause of accidents in the transportation industry. Drivers report periods of micro-sleeping, which are brief lapses of consciousness lasting a fraction of a second or up to thirty seconds. A tired driver will shift between wakefulness and sleep. As it specifically relates to overnight trips, fatigue is more common at night with reduced sleep and drowsiness that can result from low light conditions

Driving More Than Three Hours Straight At Night Equates To Driving Under The Influence

You would never risk your own safety and livelihood by driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and you wouldn’t put other motorists in danger either. However, tractor-trailer accident statistics have established that driving a commercial vehicle for longer than three hours at night is the equivalent to driving while intoxicated.

Specifically, drivers who operate their truck for this amount of time during nighttime hours were observed to drive as if they had blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 or higher. Performance errors and poor judgment are typical when a person is driving a vehicle with a BAC at this level, so it’s fair to assume that truck drivers operating continuously for more than three hours at night will make the same mistakes. The same results were not seen when operators drove for three or more hours during the day, so it’s clear that overnight trips are the riskiest for truck drivers.

Logbooks are used to verify that a trucker is not spending too much time behind the wheel but some drivers manipulate the log books to get more miles in the day.

Even If A Truck Driver Does Get Sleep Before An Overnight Trip, Overnight Truck Driving Accidents Are Still Higher

Safe, smart truck drivers will take care to get the proper amount of sleep before embarking on an overnight trip, allowing enough time for 6-8 hours of rest. However, scientists who study sleep patterns have determined that even the right amount of rest time does not ensure the best quality of sleep. The human body has a built in clock that motivates us to sleep during the night and be more productive during the day, also known as circadian rhythms. The sun and our habits have influence on circadian rhythms, but the phenomenon itself is impossible to completely overcome.

Therefore, no amount of sleep in the late afternoon and evening hours is enough to prepare a truck driver for an overnight trip when compared to one making a trip during the day. When you consider the extent to which a lack of good quality sleep can affect driving performance, it’s easy to see why overnight semi-truck driving is among the most hazardous.

Lower Traffic Levels Can Cause Complacency

Many motorists, not just truck drivers, drive at night because of reduced traffic. Rush hour, both morning and evening, can turn a short trip into an extended time at the wheel for truck drivers. Those who opt to take overnight trips do so to avoid bumper-to-bumper conditions.

However, fewer cars on the road at night isn’t always the best situation for truck drivers. Operators become more comfortable behind the wheel and fall into habits of complacency. This leads to a dazed-like sensation, which makes them less likely to recognize a situation that requires them to act. The delay that results can have devastating consequences.

Reduced Visibility Affects The Amount Of Time It Takes A Tractor Trailer To Stop

Drivers rely heavily on the truck’s lighting system to guide their way during overnight driving. However, most industry low beam lights shine approximately 160 – 250 feet from the front of the vehicle and high beams illuminate between 350 – 500 feet. The distance it takes a semi-truck carrying a full load on dry pavement at 60 mph is around 335 feet. Of course, many drivers operate at the posted speed limit for their vehicle type, which can be 65 mph or more. Plus, this length doesn’t account for reduced visibility and reduced action time at night, so the distance is likely much higher. When comparing the distance to stop with how far the high and low beam lights shine, it’s clear why nighttime trips can be more dangerous than driving during the day.

Some Overnight Tractor Trailer Driving Is Against The Law

While your own safety and that of others on the road is of paramount concern, there is also a legal reason tractor-trailer drivers should think twice about making an overnight trip. Truck drivers could risk their license to drive a semi if they violate laws established by the Department of Transportation and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. A driver of a qualifying commercial motor vehicle must follow Hours of Service rules:

No amount of sleep and safety precaution can ensure that you’re not involved in a truck driving accident. Truck drivers have an obligation to always make wise driving decisions, but nighttime conditions can make doing so more difficult.

If you were injured in a commercial trucking accident or if a loved one died in a truck wreck, it’s important to consult with an attorney experienced in trucking accidents as soon as possible. Your attorney must pursue all possible sources of potential liability to maximize the recovery of damages. Tractor-trailer accidents are more complex to litigate than standard car-on-car crashes due to the large number of parties involved. Every entity, from the driver, the trucking carrier, the manufacturer of the truck, to the mechanics involved in the maintenance of the vehicle can be involved, causing a complex web of legal issues. It is suggested that victims of tractor-trailer accidents retain legal representation from a qualified attorney with experience in litigating claims involving tractor-trailer accidents.

You may be entitled to compensation for your losses, but only a qualified lawyer has the background and knowledge of relevant laws to pursue your legal remedies. Time is of the essence after a tractor trailer accident, so move quickly to speak with legal professionals about your case.

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