Truck Driver Fatigue Is a Major Factor in Truck Crashes

November 22, 2019 Truck Accident Blog

Dispatcher Expectations: How Profit Motives Affect Driver Safety

Roughly 15 million commercial trucks will transport more than 70% of the nation’s freight this year. With so many large trucks on the road, fleet owners and drivers must take precautions to limit fatal accidents. Unfortunately, the role of the dispatcher is often overlooked when considering factors that contribute to truck driver fatigue.

Driver Fatigue and Traffic Fatalities/Injuries

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, fatigue contributes to driver error, which is present in the majority of large truck crashes. Fatigue can affect many aspects of a driver’s performance. For example, the reaction time of the driver depends on the mental clarity that comes from getting enough rest.

Driver Fatigue and Other Contributing Elements

Driver fatigue can combine with other issues as well, and this combination increases the likelihood of a crash. For example, the fatigue that lowers the driver’s reaction time can combine with the longer braking distance required for a commercial vehicle to come to a complete stop. This might just be enough to create the conditions where a collision is unavoidable.

The condition of the truck can contribute to a crash too. In many cases, vehicle responsiveness depends on the trucking company’s willingness and ability to finance routine maintenance procedures. This includes the tread on the front tires, engine parts and more.

Many other contributing factors can play a role in creating the conditions for an accident. These conditions tend to become more serious whenever a driver is fatigued. Drivers routinely make split-second decisions that determine the trajectory of the vehicle within the context of the traveling speed, weight, load and stopping distance. If the drive tires are balding, the truck won’t react as quickly as it would if the tread was new. Combine this with driver fatigue and a little bit of rain on the road, and the probability of an accident increases exponentially.

Many people forget that it takes a commercial truck about 512 feet to come to a complete stop when driving at around 55 mph on a dry road. This number also assumes that the vehicle’s brakes are good. If there are problems with the brakes and there is rain on the road, the conditions for stopping the vehicle also change. It can take six seconds to stop the truck under good conditions. If truck driver fatigue comes into play, that reaction time will be much slower.

Driver Fatigue and the Role of Dispatchers

Dispatchers are directly responsible for routing the vehicle within the federal hours-of-service rules, or HOS. Mistakes can intensify the pressure the driver feels to travel a specific number of miles within a time frame. For example, additional road conditions will often appear long after the dispatcher has done their duties, and only the drivers are aware of these looming hazards.

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If the dispatcher isn’t aware of the driver’s need to avoid night driving, they will often simply book the load whenever it’s convenient. This can force drivers to continue driving throughout the night just to make a delivery first thing in the morning. Night driving is more dangerous for certain people, including inexperienced or older drivers. These drivers are more likely to need regular sleep hours to remain fully alert. Forced dispatches compel the driver to continue working even if the conditions are unsafe. Younger drivers might not have the same reaction to night driving, but they are also less likely to refuse a load.

Retaliation is a common problem in the industry if a driver refuses a load for any reason. This pressure on the driver is consistent whether the driver is classified as an employee, independent contractor or even an owner-operator. If the dispatcher waits until the last minute to get the truck moving, the hours-of-service available could push the driver to continue driving while extremely fatigued. At that point, all it takes is some bad weather, traffic congestion or another incident on the road to create the perfect storm for a collision.

Dispatcher Expectations and Driver Fatigue

The amount of time it takes to deliver cargo from one warehouse to another depends on many variables. If the dispatcher understands how to factor in these variables, the driver will probably be much safer. Unfortunately, many dispatchers put profit ahead of safety.

It’s important to realize that the actual time needed to complete the delivery can be very different than the expected delivery time. This difference is a safety risk because drivers are always under extreme pressure to make deadlines regardless of the conditions on the road. Unrealistic expectations from dispatchers can increase the risk of an accident. This is a critical area of safety that often gets overlooked even though drivers deal with it on a regular basis. Narrowing the gap between expectations and reality can make the trips much safer.

Since they’re also under a lot of pressure, dispatchers are often motivated to force drivers to accept loads, even if it comes at the expense of public safety and good work ethics. Dispatchers use a computer to calculate the distance that they believe is needed to make a delivery. However, they are not always trained to calculate the most common items that consume the available time for the driver to accomplish the delivery schedule.

Conditions That Affect Delivery Times

Dispatchers tend to blame the driver for late deliveries. This often happens even when there are conditions like traffic, construction or extreme weather events. The time it can take to actually make the delivery can be up to four times what is calculated by the dispatcher. Dispatchers will often apply pressure on the driver to continue driving for extra hours and at high speeds just to make up the difference for their inefficient planning methods. The fatigue can cause driver errors.

A survey conducted by the NHTSA showed how prevalent driver errors are in truck accidents. The study covered 33 months and involved 12,000 fatalities and extensive injuries caused by collisions with commercial trucks. Over this period of time, driver fatigue was cited as the most consistent factor that contributed to the driver’s error at the time of the collision. Other factors included recognition failures, indecisiveness, bad performance and even non-performance, which means the driver was disabled by a medical condition or fell asleep at the wheel.

Fatigue, Fatalities and Trucking Law

Large trucks tend to cause serious harm or death when they collide with other road users. While truck driver fatigue may be the main cause of an accident, issues such as the truck’s weight and longer stopping distance factors into the risk involved. Large trucks are also more difficult to maneuver in tight situations and at high speeds. Recklessness, weather conditions, night driving and driver fatigue create conditions that are dangerous to everyone on the road. That’s why trucking law firms are needed to deal with the complexity of accident-related legal cases.

Fatigue can delay the driver’s ability to perceive a situation and react appropriately within the amount of time available. Pressure from a dispatcher to make a delivery under unrealistic expectations can be the last straw for drivers who are already enduring extreme conditions on a regular basis. If you’ve been injured by a fatigued trucker, it’s important to establish fault with the appropriate party. The lawyers at Rebenack Aronow & Mascolo can guide you through this legal process. Our goal will be to get you the compensation you deserve. You can reach us in New Brunswick, NJ, at (732) 247-3600 or in Somerville, NJ, at (908) 448-2560.

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