Trucking Accidents Worsen as More Drivers Fall Asleep at the Wheel
It has been two years since dozing truck driver, Renato Velasquez barreled his heavily-laden 18-wheeler into an Illinois State Trooper's parked vehicle, triggering a chain of events that would claim the life of one man, and injuring two others- one of them critically.
Later, the court would determine that Velasquez was falling asleep behind the wheel of his rig.
The reason for this particular accident, foremostly, was a criminally negligent driver believing he could push through the fatigue, and by doing so, forever altered others' lives. Facilitating this problem of drowsy truck drivers is a trend started by Congress of relaxing safety restrictions, allowing, even obligating commercial truck drivers to spend more time behind the wheel without rest. Safety restrictions are put in place to protect US citizens, and history has shown that trucking accidents worsen when restrictions are undermined.
In 2009, in the depths of a sluggish economy, truck-related fatalities reached a historic low- 2,983 accidents resulted in 3,380 deaths. As the economy has rebounded, however, the death toll has risen- by 17.3 percent in only four years. In 2013, the most recent year where complete data was available, 3,541 accidents claimed 3,964 lives. The number of fatalities in 2014 appears to have dropped slightly, although the number of accidents and injuries increased.
All the while, Congress has been succumbing to trucking industry lobbyists who wish to water-down or abolish at least a half-dozen key safety regulations. For decades, powerful factions in the trucking industry have protested federal regulations mandating certain working hours, rest periods, weight and size limits, and safety standards. With the advent of the Great Recession in 2008, the lobbying efforts intensified in an attempt to mitigate damage to shippers' bottom lines.
Much attention lately, has been focused on truck driver fatigue and the root causes of it.
Sleep apnea, a common disorder that can render a sufferer dangerously fatigued, may be the culprit. Evaluations on the effects of sleep apnea have been performed on drivers, train engineers, pilots, and others for whom a restful night's sleep is of paramount importance.
When someone suffers from sleep apnea, their airway closes repeatedly while they sleep, disrupting their breathing multiple times an hour. It often goes unnoticed, however, it interrupts restful sleep patterns and leaves the patient feeling drowsy the following day. With the effects being cumulative, sleep apnea can have catastrophic results for truck drivers and those sharing the road with them.
In addition, excessive body weight can exacerbate the effects of sleep apnea, and federal surveys show that as many as two-thirds of truck drivers are obese.
In 2012, a proposal was presented by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requiring overweight truck drivers to be tested for sleep apnea. The trucking industry vehemently opposed the legislation. Only a week after submitting the proposal, the FMCSA yielded to pressure from the trucking industry and withdrew the proposal, claiming it was published by mistake.
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