1. Do trucks pose a significant safety problem?
Yes. More than 5,000 people have been killed annually in truck-related crashes for the past several years. Large trucks are severely over represented in annual crash figures. Although they are only 3 percent of the registered vehicles, they are responsible for 12 to 13 percent of passenger vehicle occupant deaths each year
Nearly one in four passenger vehicle deaths in multiple-vehicle collisions involve a large truck. In fact, large trucks are involved in multiple-vehicle fatal crashes at twice the rate of passenger vehicles. In addition, nearly 800 large truck occupants, almost all of them drivers, also die each year in these crashes.
The reasons for this excessive contribution to annual crash figures include the unwieldy size, weight, braking ability, and maneuverability of big combination and single-unit trucks. These factors, and the fact that trucks often involve far more vehicles in a crash than do passenger vehicles, combine to make truck safety a serious problem.
Driver fatigue is another major reason for the high level of truck crashes each year. The reality is that many thousands of truck drivers are operating their commercial vehicles in a fatigued, sleep-deprived condition, which is the result of long hours on the road combined with inadequate rest and sleep.
2. Is driver fatigue a safety problem in the motor carrier industry?
Yes. Fatigue has been a major factor in truck crashes for many years. Major studies by the National Transportation Safety Board, Australian researchers, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the AAA Foundation, as well as surveys of drivers themselves, clearly indicated that the contribution of fatigue to commercial vehicle crashes and fatal truck crashes is far greater than claimed by the government and industry.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) performed a new analysis of data for the proposed hours of service rule and found that fatigue directly contributes to about 15 percent of all fatal truck crash deaths and serious injuries each year. This means that more than 750 people die and nearly 20 thousand are seriously injured on our roads and streets each year due directly to fatigued drivers of medium and heavy commercial vehicles.
3. What is “fatigue”?
Fatigue is a complex, but very real, interaction of physiological, cognitive, and emotional factors which result in slowed reactions, poor judgment, reduced cognitive processing of information, and an inability to continue performing a task or to carry it out at a high, sustained level of accuracy or safety.
The most advanced state of fatigue is, of course, literally falling asleep. This is a serious safety issue because many catastrophic failures, including motor vehicle and railroad crashes, and other shift work tragedies (e.g., Three-Mile Island), often result from fatigued workers who literally fall asleep at the controls. However, most fatigue-related human errors resulting in serious, adverse health and safety consequences occur due to degraded performance before a person actually falls asleep “at the switch.” The pervasive problem of fatigue is due principally to one or more conditions including: lack of sleep; poor quality sleep (sleep that is shallow rather than deep); interrupted sleep (which denies opportunities for protracted deep sleeping periods); non-circadian or inverted circadian work and rest cycles (that is, on other than a regular 24-hour schedule, or working at night and trying to sleep during the day); rapidly rotating work/rest cycles (which undermines partial adaptation to changed work/sleep schedules); physical exhaustion (which can result from hours of loading and unloading heavy freight); organic diseases (such as sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and severe diabetes); and the excessive use of and reliance upon both stimulants and depressants to compensate for insufficiently long or poor quality sleep.