Will Driver Shortage Lead to Increase in Truck Accidents?

Will Driver Shortage Lead to Increase in Truck Accidents?The trucking industry, and truck drivers themselves, currently play a critical role in America’s economic infrastructure. Truck drivers traverse our nation’s highways, carrying heavy loads of goods and supplies from factories and warehouses and delivering them from one region of the country to another. Our reliance on truck drivers was underscored during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the public health emergency forced many Americans to stay home but truckers kept moving essential goods around the country.

Truck drivers are such a staple on our roads that most of us do not give the huge trucks they maneuver more than a momentary thought when we see them on the highway. However, those tractor-trailers pose a tremendous danger to everyone else on the road. The sheer size and weight of an 18-wheeler – even when it is not carrying a full load – dwarfs the average passenger vehicle. In a truck accident that involves a car, the occupants of the car typically fare much worse than those in the truck. Even a minor accident between a truck and a car or SUV can lead to serious, catastrophic injuries or fatalities.

The danger of truck accidents is exacerbated by the pressure truck drivers are often under to make on-time deliveries. Now, the trucking industry is facing a significant shortage of drivers, leaving those who are still behind the wheel under even more pressure. While trucking companies seek to maximize profits by delivering goods in the least amount of time possible, they leave everyone else on the roads at risk of being involved in a serious – perhaps even deadly – accident with a truck.

Driver fatigue and truck accidents

Statistics show that nearly 5,000 large trucks were involved in fatal crashes on America’s roads in 2020, while 107,000 were involved in crashes that resulted in injuries. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) cites driver fatigue as a top cause of accidents involving trucks, blaming it for approximately 13% of truck crashes. FMCSA regulates the number of hours truck drivers are permitted to drive over a set number of days. For instance, under the current rules, truckers are permitted to drive a maximum of 60 hours over seven days or 70 hours over eight days, depending on their company’s operating hours. A driver’s “reset” break of 34 hours off duty can set that number back to zero.

Ideally, when a truck driver needs to stop to rest – especially for a reset break – they look for a truck stop. These rest stops offer everything from restaurants and showers to laundry facilities and even churches for truckers. However, a recent article in The New York Times highlighted the ways in which the shortage of truck drivers – and the impending rise of automated trucking – is affecting the industry that supports truckers while they are on the road. With fewer truck drivers behind the wheel and in need of a “one-stop” place to rest, get a meal, take a shower, or wash their clothes, truck stops may become fewer and farther between – leaving those truckers who are still on the road with fewer safe options to stop and rest.

What does all of this mean for other drivers? Simple: With fewer places to rest and recharge, truck drivers may be forced to pull over to the side of the highway to sleep. This is not the most restful option. As one driver quoted in the Times article said about having to pull over and sleep on the side of the highway due to a shortage of available parking at the dwindling number of truck stops, “You have vehicles that are traveling down the highway at 65, 70 miles an hour. You can feel them when they run by you, rocking the truck. You’re not going to get a good night’s rest doing that.” As statistics bear out, tired drivers are dangerous drivers. Truck accidents are already up in 2022. Since every Virginian shares the road with large trucks from time to time, it follows that every Virginian is at greater risk.

Self-driving trucks are not the answer

While much has been, and will continue to be, made of the rise of autonomous or self-driving trucks as the answer to the truck driver shortage, they are not necessarily a safer alternative. Experts claim that driverless trucks will be more efficient because the artificial intelligence (AI) that operates the truck can drive for an unlimited number of hours as it does not require sleep like a human driver. Supporters of autonomous trucks also say these vehicles will eliminate or greatly reduce the human errors and distracted driving that are often the cause of truck accidents.

However, self-driving trucks are not immune to accidents. Any number of issues can cause a potentially deadly truck accident, including software malfunctions, locational hazards, negligence related to maintenance or loading, and even driver error. Driverless trucks still require a human driver to be behind the wheel, ready to take over at a moment’s notice if anything goes wrong. This requires the human driver to be alert and paying attention at all times, and even a momentary delay before taking over driving may result in a serious or deadly accident. If it does, the occupants of any passenger vehicles unfortunate enough to be involved in the truck accident face an extreme disadvantage.

If you or a loved one were injured in a truck accident, you know firsthand how traumatic and deadly these crashes can be. Even a seemingly minor accident involving a truck and a car can leave the car’s driver and passengers facing serious injuries or fighting for their lives. Cuts, bruises, broken bones, internal injuries, spinal cord injuries (SCI), traumatic brain injuries (TBI), traumatic amputation – the list of possible injuries runs the gamut, with many requiring not only emergency medical attention but potentially ongoing surgeries, procedures, and ongoing care. The physical, mental, and emotional pain is typically accompanied by a financial burden that few individuals or families can bear.

If you or a loved one were hurt in a truck accident, it is important to hold the truck driver and trucking company accountable. Their insurance company and lawyers will do everything in their power to place the blame on you and limit the amount of money the company must pay. You need a skilled personal injury attorney on your side. Based in Richmond, the experienced truck accident lawyers at Phelan Petty fight for truck accident victims throughout Virginia. Call us today at our office in Richmond at 804-980-7100 or fill out our contact form to schedule a free consultation.