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Fatigue study raises questions about hours of service revisions

The thought of a commercial vehicle weighing 40 tons and traveling at highway speed with a fatigued driver behind the wheel is enough to alarm even the most placid motorist, but the results of a study published recently in the Journal of Community Health suggest that this happens every day in Pennsylvania and around the country. A team of researchers from Ball State University used data from the National Health Interview Survey to analyze the sleep patterns of 150,000 American workers, and they discovered that fatigue is alarmingly common in many key industries.

The figures reveal that 35.6% of American workers get less than seven hours of sleep each night. However, that figure rises to 50% for law enforcement officers and members of the military, 45% for health care support workers and 41% among transportation sector employees. In 2010, only 32% of transportation workers were fatigued. The researchers say that factors contributing to America's sleep problems include workplace pressure and the dizzying array of entertainment options offered by modern electronic communications devices.

The study is likely to be seized on by road safety groups opposed to revisions of the current hours of service rules proposed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The FMCSA says that relaxing the regulations could make the roads safer, but organizations including the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety believe the proposed changes will encourage reckless behavior and lead to more fatal truck accidents.

Experienced personal injury attorneys may have the trucks involved in accidents inspected to find out if fatigue was a factor. Electronic data recorded on black box-type devices could reveal what steps truck drivers took to avoid a crash and how long they had been behind the wheel when they lost control of their vehicles. This evidence could then be used to establish negligence.

Source: The Los Angeles Times, "Trump administration moves to relax rules on how long truckers can drive", Associated Press report, Aug. 14, 2019

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