Driver Fatigue and Truck Accidents Don’t Mix

A minor collision that stopped traffic on an Oklahoma interstate last year resulted in a deadly domino effect when a tractor-trailer truck barreled into a Land Rover that had stopped in the line of vehicles held up by the traffic jam. The Land Rover rammed into another car before rolling off the side of the roadway. According to investigators, the semi truck continued on, without braking or taking any apparent evasive action, rolling over two more cars and dragging them under its wheels before stopping atop a minivan. This tragic tractor-trailer accident left 10 dead.

A year after the accident it was determined that fatigue played a role in the fatal crash. Accident investigators told officials at the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) that the driver was operating on less than five hours of sleep when he started his day at 3 a.m. By the time of the accident he had been on the road for more than 10 hours. Additionally, the driver suffered from sleep apnea — which causes abnormal breathing throughout the night and can prevent restful sleep.

The NTSB estimates that 31 percent of all heavy truck accidents are due to driver fatigue. Studies conducted 20 years ago indicated that fatigue was recognized as a serious problem in 18-wheeler accidents, but safety recommendations made after the studies continue to go unfulfilled — sometimes with deadly consequences.

Investigators of the Oklahoma truck crash urged the NTSB to recommend that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) require trucking companies to utilize risk management programs for fatigue. Investigators have also expressed concerns about trucking companies’ lack of screening drivers for sleep apnea and failure to ensure proper treatment for sleep-related problems.

The NTSB is working on a fatigue risk management program, but there is no current requirement that trucking companies adopt it. NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman noted that it is long past time for the trucking industry to adopt their own measures to reduce the risk of fatigue-related accidents — rather than wait for government agencies to impose the regulations.

Source: NTSB cites fatigue in Okla. crash that killed 10