Commercial vehicles with fatigued drivers behind the wheel, dangerous mechanical defects or poorly secured loads pose a hazard to road users in Florida and around the country, and researchers studied truck crashes between 2010 and 2012 to determine how serious this threat is. The research team was drawn from the North Carolina State Highway Patrol, the University of North Carolina and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and they compared the mechanical systems of trucks involved in 197 serious crashes with a similar number of commercial vehicles that had completed their journeys safely.
The research team found that tractor-trailers with mechanical defects crashed about twice as often as well-maintained trucks, and commercial vehicles with problems severe enough to warrant an out-of-service order were about four times as likely to be involved in accidents. Commercial vehicle inspectors issue such orders when a breakdown is imminent or defects are discovered that pose a clear threat to other road users.
The study also revealed that increasing levels of fatigue also greatly influence accident rates. The researchers found that truck drivers are 86 percent more likely to crash when they are behind the wheel at least 12 hours after their last period of extended rest, and even remaining on the road for longer than five hours was found to double crash risks. Current federal regulations allow truck drivers to work shifts as long as 11 hours and up to 77 hours in a seven-day period.
Hours of service logs can be useful to personal injury attorneys seeking to establish fatigue as a factor in trucking accident lawsuits. Drivers often deny that they were tired when they crashed and prosecutions for drowsy driving are rare, but the burden of proof is set lower in civil court and the routine violation of federal rules may be enough to convince a jury that the plaintiff's version of events is more likely true than false.