As COVID-19 spreads throughout the United States and the world at large, supplies are flying off the shelves. Supermarkets with hundreds of thousands of items have been cleaned out. Restocking shelves and keeping people fed throughout this epidemic will require fleets of truck drivers working around the clock.
Because of the extreme demand for supplies, the White House has temporarily suspended the long-standing hours of service laws. This means truckers will be on the road longer so they can deliver much-needed stock. However, this also means that truck accidents are likely to increase.
Hours of Service
For more than 80 years, The Federal Motor Carrier Administration has mandated how many hours truck drivers may work at a time. These are called “Hours of Service” laws (HoS). Now, for the first time in American history, that limit has been suspended for drivers hauling emergency supplies.
Typically, a truck driver may operate their vehicle for 11 hours after a 10-hour break. Under the law, 14 hours is the maximum that any truck driver should work during the day. On top of that, drivers aren’t supposed to work more than 60-70 hours per week.
Under the new suspension, drivers hauling emergency supplies, food, and equipment for establishing temporary treatment centers are exempt from Hours of Service limits. That means truck drivers going to grocery stores and hospitals are very likely to be beyond both the normal legal limits and the physical limits of operating a truck.
These laws have been in place for more than 80 years for a reason. They are meant to prevent both truck drivers and passenger vehicles from serious accidents. No truck driver, no matter how strong-willed, is immune from the effects of drowsiness and fatigue.
Drowsy truck drivers have long been a cause of hundreds of truck accidents each year. Even with hours of service limits, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration estimates that about 1-in-9 truck accidents are caused by drowsy truck drivers.
With legal restrictions lifted and supervisors urging truckers to push themselves to their physical limits, the number of truck accidents caused by drowsy driving is very likely to increase until the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.
Additionally, there are more trucks on the road now than ever before. Highways are full of trucks carrying food and relief supplies—the more vehicles on the road, the greater the chance of an accident. Moreover, truck drivers face extreme pressure to deliver their cargo on a tight schedule.
Both motorists and truck drivers have a responsibility to drive safely, especially in these difficult times. The overwhelming majority of truck accidents end in tragedy for the passenger vehicle, and nearly half of all accidents happen at night.
Drivers of passenger vehicles have their own obligations. Drivers should always give trucks extra space, but now it’s a good idea to leave a few extra car lengths. Likewise, drivers should ensure they can see a truck’s mirrors. Trucks have limited visibility and often can’t see what is behind them, next to them, or directly in front of them.
More than anything, drivers should take extra care to avoid cutting off trucks or merging into a tight space. An exhausted truck driver may be unaware of their vehicle’s surroundings and could be caught off-guard when a car appears in front of them.
Even with lifted restrictions, truck drivers should pull over when they find themselves too tired to keep their eyes open. At some points, even enormous travel-mugs of coffee won’t stave off the physical need to sleep.
Truck drivers have a greater responsibility now than ever. They’re not just accountable to the vehicles around them but to the millions of people impacted by panic buying. If they get in a crash, their supplies might never reach the people who need them most.
If you or someone you love suffered serious injuries or even wrongful death in a truck accident, we are here for you. If you’d like an experienced personal injury attorney from The Law Offices of Figueredo to evaluate your claim, please send us an email or call (770) 594-0815.