A recent crash between a Greyhound bus and a line of semi trucks parked on the side of the road has brought the problem of drowsy driving to the forefront of trucking issues this summer.
The July 12th crash that left three dead is still under investigation, but the National Transportation Safety Board is focusing on the issues of driver fatigue and rest areas as the investigation continues.
“We are particularly interested in issues relating to rest areas, safety, bus occupant protection and potential driver fatigue and medical fitness,” said National Transportation Safety Board member Tom Chapman.
Truck drivers told KSDK 5 news that fatigue is a major issue when it comes to trucking, and say that often, the odds are stacked against truckers trying to deliver a load safely.
“[Driving drowsy is] very dangerous,” said truck driver Kevin Collett. “They need to be able to pull over and take another nap if they have to. The drivers need to have more input into what they will and won’t do because a lot of these companies want to try and drive the truck from behind their desk…. That’s why I have my own authority.”
“They’re [the company] the ones pressuring. You know, you make a promise to the customer. ‘Hey, I’ll move that for you for $1,000 and I’ll get down there in four hours,’ if the driver hasn’t slept,” Collett continued.
And the tools drivers use to stay awake only make sleeping more difficult once the job is done, he added.
“You get all hopped up on caffeine and 5-hour Energy and you don’t sleep.”
In addition to the caffeine, the prevalence of sleep apnea among truck drivers only adds to the possibility of becoming overtired at the wheel. One in three truck drivers suffers from the sleep-affecting disorder, which can leave drivers chronically fatigued.
“And these drivers are chronically fatigued because what’s happening is they’re not breathing properly in the middle of the night… And so they’re sleep deprived,” said attorney Ryan Zehl, who works with victims of commercial vehicle crashes.
The ever-present truck parking issue can also stretch drivers to their limit when a safe and legal spot to shut down is nowhere to be found.
Brent France, another truck driver, says that the search for truck parking has led to him driving his truck when he probably should have been resting.
“I was looking for somewhere to park and there was nowhere. I could feel the fatigue set in. And I blink my eyes and I woke up and. I was probably, I don’t know, I was probably 100-feet down the road … it scared me,” he said.
“[Even if I’m tired] I’m going to keep going further out until I find somewhere with adequate parking where I feel safe and secure for me to go lay down and rest overnight,” added truck driver Charmaine Harris.
The official cause of the Greyhound bus crash has not yet been determined, but legislation aimed at using state funding to create truck parking is currently being debated in the House.