According to the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), transportation incidents are the most frequent fatal workplace event, accounting for 40 percent of workplace deaths in 2017. This includes the occupational subgroup of heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers who suffered 840 fatal occupational injuries in 2017.
Believe it or not, this recent data isn’t surprising to those who study occupational injury and fatality. Each year, the data show that truck driving is a dangerous job. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that commercial truck drivers are almost eight times more likely to die on the job than police officers. This blog examines several reasons why the nation’s more-than-four million truck drivers remain prone to accident and injury.
Truck drivers have demanding schedules that require long days and driving at odd hours so they meet deadlines to pick up and deliver consumer goods across the nation. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) mandates hours of service regulations that dictate how long a driver may operate in a day and a week. Even with mandatory rest and breaks, truck drivers’ schedules lead to driver fatigue.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) estimates that driver fatigue contributes to more than a third of heavy truck accidents. The FMSCA reports that drivers who are awake for 18 hours are as impaired as drunk drivers with a 0.08 blood alcohol concentration. Even when truck drivers follow the letter of the law and use mandated electronic logging devices, they might be fatigued. Falling asleep at the wheel can result in a fatal accident for truck drivers and any vehicles with which the truck collides.
The pay structure in the trucking industry is closely related to driver fatigue, but more broadly related to a truck driver’s choice between safety and productivity. The vast majority of truck drivers are paid by the load and/or by the mile instead of by the hour. This motivates drivers to cut corners to make their pickups and drops as fast as possible. They might skip safety procedures like pre-trip inspections, speed, drive during dangerous weather conditions, and not take required downtime. In the past, truck drivers could easily doctor their logbooks to drive off the clock, commonly referred to as “running hot,” but new federal requirement requiring electronic logging devices make it next to impossible to adjust hours.
The American Trucking Association (ATA) estimates a current truck driver shortage of more than 50,000 positions that is increasing each year. Long hours and demanding schedules have always contributed to high turnover in the trucking industry, but baby boomers are retiring too. This leaves the shortage of truck drivers to include a shortage of experienced drivers. Smaller trucking companies have chosen to hire young drivers who they can pay less money instead of raising wages to attract qualified drivers. In turn, larger companies poach these drivers once they gain some experience. Driving a big rig requires training and skill that only comes with time on the job. Companies that don’t take the time to properly train their drivers put them at risk for accident and injury.
Lack of Airbags
Seatbelts are the primary piece of safety equipment in heavy trucks that protect drivers from injury when they are involved in an accident. Although the research about the benefits of airbags has prompted lawmakers to make them mandatory in all passenger vehicles, the same mandates haven’t been made in the trucking industry. Some argue this is because a truck’s size and weight already protects drivers and truck occupants are already far less likely to be severely injured than those in passenger vehicles. Airbags cannot replace seatbelts, but when used in conjunction with seatbelts, they reduce injuries and save lives, even in heavy trucks. Drivers who are involved in a severe accident have a greater risk of injury or death without airbags.
Truck parking makes truck driving a dangerous job for several reasons. First, truck drivers are federally mandated to take breaks and parking isn’t always available when they need to legally end their day. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) reports that the truck parking shortage remains a safety concern in Florida and across the United States. When truck drivers don’t have parking spaces in the locations where they need them, fatigued drivers need to continue past their limit until they find someplace to rest. Trucks parking on exit ramps and shoulders of the road is also unsafe. Both situations potentially lead to more truck accidents, injuries, and fatalities for truckers and others. Unfortunately, experts expect this problem to grow with the expected growth of the trucking industry. Ironically, the places that have truck parking also make truck driving a dangerous job: truck stops and rest areas. Not all truck stops and rest areas are unsafe, but drivers might be targets of violence and crime. If a semi is carrying valuable cargo, drivers are even more at risk for crime.
Many trucks carry hazardous materials. Tanker trucks are especially dangerous because they haul gasoline, oil, and other flammable and toxic chemicals. If another motorist hits the truck, drivers may be injured or die in an explosion or fire. Additionally, regular freight can be hazardous when a truck is loaded improperly. This might be a result of an inexperienced driver making a mistake while loading his own cargo or another employee working at a loading dock. Unbalanced and overloaded trucks make it more difficult for a truck driver to control the truck, which already requires skill.
Poor Truck Maintenance
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) mandates rules about inspections, routine maintenance, and repairs for the trucking industry. Trucking companies that don’t follow the law put their drivers at risk for injury or death. Companies might be trying to save some money, especially if they are new. Yet, failing to take care of necessary repairs, skipping routine maintenance, and prolonging mandatory inspections cost more in the long run. If the FMCSA audits a company to check for mandatory repair records, companies will receive a heavy fine. Even more important, when worn tires blow out or brakes fail, this causes the driver to lose control of the truck and might result in an accident. In fact, tire blowouts are the number one reason for truck rollovers.
Long Term Health Issues
A 2015 study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine reported that in a poll of long-haul truck drivers, 86 percent were obese or morbidly obese with a body mass index of 30 or higher. The survey was conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and revealed that long-haul truck drivers are more than twice as likely to be obese as working adults in the United States in other professions, 40 percent of whom fall into the obese category. Obesity in truck drivers stems from multiple causes such as sitting in the truck for long periods of time, lack of regular exercise, eating fast food and convenience food at truck stops, and consuming high calorie sugary drinks while driving.
Poor dining options, long hours of sitting in a cab, stress from driving, and demanding schedules result in many truck drivers suffering from obesity and its fallout. This may include high blood pressure, sleep apnea, heart disease, diabetes, and other dangerous conditions. Truck drivers must undergo yearly physicals to obtain and maintain their commercial drivers’ license (CDL), but the dangers that come with these conditions might cause a severe or fatal accident before it’s time for a yearly physical.
Oftentimes, doctors prescribe medications to deal with these issues, which may pose additional risks if a driver suffers side effects from a medication. Most truck drivers already don’t get the recommended amount of sleep each night, taking medications that cause drowsiness, and conditions like sleep apnea dangerous by putting truckers at high risk for falling asleep while driving.
Obese truckers might also struggle with Type II diabetes. Among the many unpleasant symptoms of diabetes, blurred vision and fatigue are especially dangerous and put drivers at risk for an accident. Untreated high blood pressure might create a medical emergency on the road for truck drivers if they have a heart attack or stroke.
Physical Job Requirements
Although it is true that long-haul truck drivers spend a lot of time sitting in a cab, this isn’t true of all truck drivers. Many drivers, even those who drive long distances for delivery, must load and unload heavy cargo. Those who drive auto-transport carriers need to make multiple stops at dealerships and climb the trailer to load and unload vehicles on the upper deck. These kinds of activities are physically demanding and might lead to multiple types of short-term and long-term injuries.
Truckers and Workplace Injuries in Florida
Regardless of whether a trucker has experience or is new to the industry, he or she is at risk for on-the-job injuries that might stem from multiple sources, including those previously mentioned. Truck drivers face many risks, some of which they can control and others that are unavoidable. If you have been injured while driving a truck, you might be able to recoup losses from a workplace injury. Trucking companies, like other business, must carry workers’ compensation insurance in Florida. After an injury, a truck driver must file a claim with his employer’s insurance company as soon as possible.
The dangers that come with truck driving often result in severe injuries. In a recent year in Pinellas County, where St. Peterburg is located, 1,420 commercial vehicle crashes resulted in 364 injuries—numbers that have crept up in recent years. In addition, those accidents killed six persons.
The benefits that drivers receive from workers’ compensation only cover medical expenses and two-thirds of lost wages resulting from their injury, so they might face financial hardship while recovering from their injuries. In the event that the workers’ comp carrier denies a driver’s claim or reduces the benefits, drivers may feel helpless. It’s often in drivers’ best interest to hire a reputable attorney to help them file a claim, so the carrier doesn’t deny it on a technicality. An attorney can also put pressure on insurance companies to make sure they are processing a claim in good faith.
In addition, circumstances exist where a truck driver may need to bring a lawsuit against his or her employer or another party with the help of a qualified attorney. Some examples include:
- The employer didn’t purchase mandatory workers’ compensation insurance.
- The employer retaliated against the driver for filing a workers’ compensation claim.
- The injury includes exposure to hazardous or toxic substances while the driver was driving truck.
- The truck or a part on the truck was defective and led to an accident and injury.
- A passenger vehicle driver crashed into the truck, causing an accident.
- The driver was held-up or attacked by criminals trying to get access to valuable cargo.
When an attorney helps a trucker file a suit in Florida civil court, the trucker may be able to recover additional medical costs for future treatment, lost wages that weren’t paid by workers’ compensation, and future lost wages for a permanent disability that requires long-term care. Drivers may also seek compensation after a severe injury for non-economic damages that vary based on the case. Some of the most common non-economic damages include pain and suffering, loss of consortium with a spouse, scarring and disfigurement, and loss of quality of life. An experienced trucking lawyer can advise drivers on which types apply to their case.
If you have suffered an injury as a truck driver, a seasoned personal injury lawyer who has experience with the trucking industry can help guide you through the workers’ comp claims process and advise you on if or when may also be able to take legal action seeking damages.
Trucking accident cases are notoriously complex because they often include multiple parties, including trucking companies and insurance carriers. In some cases, other motorists might also be party to a lawsuit. Contact one of our seasoned truck accident attorneys at Dolman Law Group in St. Petersburg at (727) 222-6922 for a free consultation with a member of your team to discuss your options.
Dolman Law Group
1663 1st Ave S.
St. Petersburg, FL, 33712