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Distracted Trucking:

Accidents happen. No matter how careful you may be on the road there are no guarantees you won’t be involved in an accident. When a truck driver causes an accident the consequences are usually far more substantial than those between two passenger vehicles. Each year truck crashes kill over 5,000 people and injure approximately 150,000.

Many times, an accident happens because the trucker is distracted. There are several common culprits that distract truckers. Distracted trucking often results from: technology use (cell phone, dispatch device, laptop), drug and/or alcohol use, driver fatigue, and eating/drinking.

Distraction #1: Technology Use: Truckers often use technology devices while driving. These devices, including cell phones, laptops, and dispatch devices require truckers to take their eyes off the road. Whether they are looking to see who is calling, searching for something on their computer, or setting their CB channel, truckers must divert their attention. Although many drivers of passenger vehicles are also distracted by today’s technologies, these drivers are not hauling 50,000 pounds or more of freight.

Even a ringing cell phone can be a grave distraction. May 6, 2009, an Alabama truck driver was recently arrested on the grounds that his ringing cell phone caused three deaths and more than a dozen injuries to occur.

A study conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute placed video cameras in the cabs of long-haul trucks for a period of 18 months in order to determine how distracting “texting” is. The study found that when truckers texted, their risk for collision was 23 times greater than when they weren’t texting away. Moments before an accident occurred, drivers spent about five seconds looking at their mobile device. Considering the speed that cars travel on the highway, it’s enough time to cover the length of more than a football field. Also, the truckers that were recorded for the study knew they were being filmed, yet they continued to text.

In addition to cell phones, laptops can also distract truckers as they barrel down the road. February 10, 2009 a truck driver became distracted by his laptop while operating his 40-ton container trailer and he rear-ended a family, crushing them between two massive semis. The trucker is now being held responsible for six charges of death resulting from dangerous driving.

Not only are accidents caused by cell phone and laptop use, but they are also caused by trying to charge such devices. A truck driver attempting to charge his cell phone rammed into stopped traffic on an Indiana Toll Road and ended up killing 8 people.

Distraction #2: Drug and/or Alcohol Use: Driving while under the influence of drugs is and/or alcohol is a bad idea to begin with. However, driving a tractor with a massive amount of cargo is even more of a bad idea. Truck drivers have used amphetamines to combat symptoms of somnolence, as well as to increase their concentration while driving. Amphetamine use was especially prevalent prior President Reagan’s signing of the Executive Order 12564, which initiated mandatory random drug testing of all truck drivers. A recent study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Traffic Safety concluded that about 15% of truck drivers had marijuana in their systems, 12% had non-prescription stimulants in their systems, 5% had prescription stimulants in their systems and 2% had cocaine in their systems.

Distraction #3: Driver Fatigue: It goes without saying that a tired driver is not a safe driver. However, truckers justify their rationale to endure on several grounds: such as profits, returning home to spend time with family, and perhaps even the opportunity to avoid daytime traffic headaches. Yet, there are both federal and state regulations in place that set forth the maximum amount of hours that can be driven between mandatory rest periods. This regulatory scheme provides for regulation of the maximum amount of hours that a trucker can legally driver, requires truckers to provide a detailed log of the hours they’ve driven, and implements an auditing plan to assure logs are properly kept.

Distraction #4: Eating/Drinking: Truckers are sometimes required to take their meals on the road. However, this can serve as a distraction that causes accidents. Considering the fact that truckers are required to meet certain deadlines, they are typically required to take their meals while driving. Even taking a swig from a soda can lead to an accident. For example a semi-truck driver collided with a school bus because he was drinking from a soda can. Apparently, the trucker did not even apply his brakes before the crash occurred. As a result, at least 14 children and two adults were sent to the hospital.

Sometimes accidents are unavoidable. Yet, many result from negligence, which could have been avoided. When truckers are distracted the results can be devastating. When on the road, always be aware of potential distractions and their affect on your driving. Every driver encounters distractions. However, the way we deal with them defines our driving ability. Truckers must take even greater precautions as they travel down the road and they must exercise the utmost precaution in order to safeguard the lives of other motorists

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