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Truck Driver Fatigue and Drug Use Contribute to Fatal Tennessee Accident

In Tennessee, drivers must follow state and local driving laws when operating their vehicles within state lines. Drivers of 18-wheelers and commercial trucks must follow these laws in addition to specific rules and safety regulations set forth by the U.S. Department of Transportation. These rules are known as Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (“FMCSR”). Since commercial vehicles, tractor trailers and other big rig trucks are much larger in size than the cars that typical Tennesseans drive, trucking accidents are often investigated to determine what caused them and to see if any recommendations can be made to prevent them in the future.

On October 4, 2016, the National Transportation Safety Board (“NTSB”) met to discuss potential causes of a significant June 2015 trucking accident near Chattanooga, Tennessee that caused six fatalities. This accident, which occurred on an Interstate 75 work zone, involved nine vehicles and 18 people. Around 7:00 p.m., traffic was slowing down when a Cool Runnings Express, Inc. (“Cool Runnings”) tractor trailer rear ended a Toyota Prius. This began the chain reaction with the other seven vehicles. After investigating the crash, the NTSB blamed the Cool Runnings driver for causing the wreck because he failed to slow down in the work zone and instead drove through it at around 80 miles per hour.  According to the NTSB, fatigue and drug use affected the trucker’s conduct that night.

Proving a truck driver’s negligence can be accomplished, in part, by showing that he or she violated one or more federal regulation. Two sections would specifically apply to this accident, Sections 382 (drug use) and 395 (hours of service).  Under Section 382, truck drivers are expressly prohibited from operating their trucks while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance, and drivers who violate this rule can face civil or criminal penalties. After being involved in an accident, a commercial truck driver must undergo mandatory drug and alcohol testing.

Alcohol tests should be conducted within two hours following the wreck, while drug tests should be taken within 32 hours (see Section 382.303). Drug and alcohol use can obviously affect one’s decision making and reaction time, and test results are to be kept in the truck driver’s personnel file. Following the Chattanooga accident, the Cool Runnings driver submitted to urine, drug, and blood alcohol tests, and they all revealed the presence of methamphetamines. The NTSB believes drug use “degraded his driving performance.”

Under Section 395, truckers must follow specific hours of service guidelines designed to reduce fatigue and increase awareness. For example, a truck driver cannot begin a shift until he or she has been off duty for at least 10 consecutive hours. At that time, a truck driver can begin a shift that can last up to 14 hours. A truck driver can drive for no more than 11 out of the 14 hours, and a 30 minute break is mandatory after reaching eight consecutive hours of driving. Under the rules, truck drivers must keep detailed logbooks of their routes and driving time.

Truck driver fatigue is a common cause of 18-wheeler accidents throughout Tennessee. In the Chattanooga accident mentioned above, investigators found that the truck driver did not take rest breaks as required. In addition, he may have gone the previous 40 hours without “sustained rest.” Had he received proper rest and taken necessary breaks, the NTSB believes he would have been able to recognize that he was entering a work zone, slow down, and take evasive action to avoid the crash.

If you are injured in an accident with a tractor trailer or commercial truck, it is important to hire an experienced attorney with knowledge of specific federal trucking regulations and how to identify violations. While these rules can be highly technical, the Tennessee trucking accident attorneys at Nahon, Saharovich & Trotz have litigated complex trucking cases involving catastrophic injuries for over 27 years. Call today at 1-800-529-4004 for a free initial consultation on your case.