Truck Driver Fatigue

It’s late at night on Interstate 70 near Kansas City, Missouri.  It is pitch black outside except for the headlights of other cars, while a big rig truck driver – driving an 80,000 pound load of retail product to one of the biggest corporations in the world – dips snuff and sips coffee.  The big rig driver shakes his head, trying desperately to stay awake.  He just needs to drive a few more miles to make it to the corporation’s hub to deliver the product.  His wife and children at home are depending on him to bring home enough money for the family’s needs.  A Holy Bible rests on the console of the big rig.  He needs to keep his eyes open for just a few more miles. He’s been driving almost non-stop since 10:00 A.M., just like yesterday and the day before that. The 11-hour workdays have caught up with him; he’s barely able to keep his truck on the road. But he can’t stop; edging out just a few more miles will cover the cost of dinner for the night, and the fleet controller is pushing him to make it to the designated stop before the end of his shift. His family is counting on his paycheck, and he won’t get paid unless his load is delivered.

This snapshot illustrates the problem with tired truckers.

A Frightening Trend

Drowsy driving is a widespread issue for truck drivers and a deadly one for the motoring public. When a big rig weighing 80,000 pounds crashes with a car weighing only 3,500 pounds, the devastation is unimaginable.  Often, even in head-on collisions between a passenger car and a big rig, the truck driver walks away from the crash, but the passengers and driver of the passenger car die or are seriously injured or permanently disabled.  

In one study, ( 40% of truckers surveyed admitted to falling asleep behind the wheel. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) had similar results in their study ( which found that 13% of all truck crashes (about 1-in-9) occurred because the driver had fallen asleep at the wheel.

Why are so many truckers taking this risk? Why do they push and push and push, beyond limits they know they shouldn’t, risking their livelihood, their lives, and the lives of the motoring public? Most truckers and most studies cite the same causes: The payment structure and pressure from management.  In other words, the importance of the almighty dollar to the corporate structure that dominates the trucking industry, with little to no emphasis on safety and prevention.

The Root of the Problem

Truckers are often paid by distance, not by hours. They typically earn between $0.20-$0.40 per mile. That means truckers are encouraged to go as far as possible in an 11-hour workday because their livelihood and comfort are on the line.  Ask any truck driver who’ll be honest with you and they will tell you that they keep two sets of books:  the books required by federal law to show they have stayed within the boundaries of the law (sometimes referred to by truckers as “comic books”), and another set of books they keep so they can get paid based upon the miles they actually drove.

Because of this, truckers get paid less to sit in traffic and maneuver adverse weather, which encourages them to go farther to make up for lost wages. That’s a serious contributing factor in pushing out those last few miles, but it’s not the only cause.

Year after year, the NHTSA finds pressure from management plays a significant role in a truck driver’s willingness to push beyond their physical limits and the legal limit. Truck drivers are typically limited to 11-hour days or no more than 14-hours in a 24-hour period.

Management’s goal of having the truck reach a specific place within a tight time frame is at direct odds with the unpredictability of traffic and weather. Poor managers may push drivers beyond their limits, encouraging them to get in a few more miles before the end of their shift to keep them on schedule. Sometimes, the worst managers even threaten the truck drivers that they will not be paid unless they reach their destination and unload the load being delivered.  Because of these pressures, an annual 58,000 truck drivers lose the battle to stay awake and end up in a serious crash.

If you or someone you love suffered severe injuries or even wrongful death in a truck crash or a crash with a big rig or dump truck or other commercial truck, you might have a case. If you’d like an experienced Kansas City truck accident attorney from McCallister Law Firm to evaluate your case, please don’t hesitate to send us an email or call (816) 931-2229.