Fatigue behind deadly truck crashes? - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Fatigue behind deadly truck crashes?

February 9, 2008

Albany -- How safe do you feel speeding down an interstate next to those big 18-wheelers?

Truck drivers are often among the most experienced drivers, but those long hours on the road can lead to trouble.

Just this week, an erratic, wrong-way truck driver caused a fiery crash on I-75. Dash cam video of that out of control tractor trailer along Interstate 75 in Turner County leads to a lot of questions and few answers. The driver, 63-year old Robert Harrison, died in a fiery crash. What caused that crash remains a mystery.

"I started down here in Ocala, Florida and I drove up to here," says Dale Harville, a truck driver for a transport company out of Greenville, Tennessee. While his log book indicates how much time he spends behind the wheel of his rig, he admits the schedule can often be grueling and tiresome.

"It's the shippers you know. They won't set you up for four hours. If they would get on the ball and get out there like they're supposed to, it would make it a lot easier on the drivers," he says.

The National Transportation Safety Board has said that as many as 40 % of heavy truck crashes are fatigue related. The Teamsters Union reported a 20 % spike in fatal crashes involving fatigued drivers from 2004 to 2005, the first year truck drivers were allowed to drive longer hours

John Kidwell with Flint River Transportation says, "It's a tough way to make living. Sometimes, while they're only driving 10 hours, it may take them 5 to 10 hours just to get loaded. And that makes for long days."

In 2003 the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration ruled that truck drivers could spend an extra hour behind the wheel without rest. Truckers can now operate a rig for 11 hours within a 14 hour time period and up to 84 hours a week. Critics say that's dangerous and many truck drivers agree.

While energy drinks and over the counter stimulants are readily available at truck stops, sometimes it just takes common sense to know when you're too tired to be behind the wheel.

"Stop and get something to drink. Let the window down or call someone that's up late at night. Any of that will help. But if it gets to the point where you can just not go on, please pull over take you a nap," says truck driver Melissa Laster.

But there are conflicting arguments against that 11 hour rule. The FMCSA says it ensures drivers are well rested and ready to work. But safety advocates and the Teamsters Union disagree.

Courts struck down that 11-hour rule twice.

Each time, each time the government re-instated it.

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