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US drowsy driving and driver fatigue rules: companies need to face the cold facts

Monday, June 23, 2014 by Scott Coles

Earlier this month, some tragic news came out of the US, where actor and comedian Tracy Morgan had been critically injured in a car accident and his close friend and collaborator James McNair was killed. The news has put the spotlight on current and future US driver fatigue laws, particularly for companies in the trucking and transportation industries.

driver fatigue

Here’s how the news unfolded:

• The accident happened in New Jersey at about 1am on Saturday 7 June, 2014
• An official statement from Morgan’s rep said he is in a critical condition and is receiving excellent care in hospital  
• Speculation reveals a tractor-truck may have rear-ended his car, and that the accident involved six vehicles
• The crash killed Morgan’s fellow passenger, comedian James “Jimmy Mack” McNair
• In the first stories emerging from this accident, it was stated that neither drug nor alcohol use were suspected as the cause of the accident
• The driver surrendered to police the night of the accident, where he was charged with one count of death by auto and four counts of assault by auto. He was, however, released on $50,000 bail
• On Wednesday 11 June, he pleaded not guilty

According to a criminal complaint that was filed after the accident, the truck driver had allegedly not slept for more than 24 hours, a claim he is denying.

It’s incredibly unfortunate an incident like this has to happen in order to get people questioning the risk of fatigued and drowsy drivers, and the duty of care companies have to not only the safety of their fleet drivers, but every single other driver on the road, too.

The accident occurred in New Jersey, a state who vehemently fought to label drowsy driving as a criminal offence, with the implementation of Maggie’s Law in 2003, where “drivers who cause a fatality while knowingly fatigued may be prosecuted for vehicular homicide” and is punishable by “up to ten years in prison and a $100,000 fine".

Current US regulations

Currently, US laws state truck drivers must take extended breaks after reaching their weekly time limits. This “Restart” law came into effect last year after 15 gruelling years of lobbying, and was expected to prevent 1400 truck crashes, save 19 lives, and avoid 560 injuries.

These laws require truck drivers to take a 30-minute break after eight hours of work, and 34 consecutive hours off after every work week.

The lobbyists against the current law

Those against this law – particularly the American Trucking Association (ATA) – argue that current rules, where rest breaks are scheduled at night, forces more trucks onto the roads during the day, where they believe traffic is at its most congested and collisions are more likely. A suspension of current regulation would restore the industry’s working week to 82 hours; the current limit is between 60 and 70 hours.

The ATA is lobbying to move more truck traffic to night-time hours – a time where, as we all know by now, you’re more likely to suffer a drowsy driving incident. Driving at night, particularly between 1am and 5am, confuses our natural body clocks, and our risk of a drowsy driving-related accident increases almost sixfold.

US Senator Cory Booker says 30 to 40 per cent of truck crashes are caused by fatigue, yet the ATA – who want Congress to drop the “Restart” law so truckers can work even more hours per week – argue that it’s really only 10 per cent.

Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration attribute 100,000 crashes and 1500 deaths to drowsy driving every year in the US. Additionally, they estimate a cost $12.5 billion is lost due to the accidents.

No more excuses: fatigue management can save lives

“It won’t happen to us”
“It’s not a priority right now”

These phrases are becoming far too commonplace in the exact industries that need to thoroughly assess their operations and identify the ways they are putting their employees at risk.

Instead of trying to sweep it under the rug, we want employers to face the very real issue that drowsy driving kills, and act to protect their employees from this danger with a fatigue management system that can manage their entire fleet.

We want to help industries to understand how scientifically-validated technology can be applied to not only significantly reduce the risk of drowsy driving-related incidents, but to see how it provides measurable ROI, too.

This mission is challenged by a time-poor society pushing harder for more productivity and rejecting the need for valuable sleep and adequate rest.

It’s a confronting matter to address but one that is well overdue. Request a call or submit a contact form to find out how Optalert’s drowsiness detection technology can protect your employees.

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