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Citing Coronavirus, Feds Allow More Drowsy Truckers on Area Highways


Truckers are essential to the supply chain. But when regulators relax safety rules in response to the pandemic, is your family safer?

A limited safety exemption was already on the books. On March 18, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration extended the hours of service exemption to include truckers hauling fuel, groceries, medical supplies, raw materials, and other items deemed necessary to fight the coronavirus. The FMCSA also said it would relax some recordkeeping requirements.

The agency stopped short of issuing an overweight waiver, but several states have already made allowances in this area.

Truck Driver Fatigue

During normal times, truckers are under a lot of pressure to drive as long as possible. During these abnormal times, this pressure is even greater. Further complicating matters, most shipping companies pay drivers by the load instead of by the mile. So, they must make deliveries as quickly as possible in order to make money on each trip.

Drowsiness is a significant problem among long-haul truckers. Frequently, fatigue has little or nothing to do with the amount of time the driver spends behind the wheel.

Many truckers suffer from sleep apnea, mostly because these individuals sit for hours at a time. Sleep apnea deprives people of deep, restorative sleep. Instead, they basically doze all night. As a result, these individuals are often tired even if they had a full eight hours’ sleep the night before.

Circadian rhythm drowsiness is a problem as well. Most people are naturally drowsy late at night and early in the morning. Frequently, truckers are on the road at these times in order to stay on schedule.

In most cases, however, fatigue is a HOS (hours of service) issue. Fatigue and alcohol have similar effects on the brain and body. In fact, driving after eighteen consecutive awake hours is like driving with a .05 BAC level. That’s above the legal limit for Florida commercial drivers.

Third Party Liability

In addition to their heavy cargo loads, most large trucks carry hundreds of gallons of highly flammable diesel fuel. Much of this fuel is in external tanks. So, when truck drivers cause crashes, the injuries are often catastrophic.

Vicarious liability theories give victim/plaintiffs an additional source of compensation, so it’s easier for a Tampa personal injury lawyer to secure a fair financial settlement. Respondeat superior (let the master answer) usually applies in semi-truck crash claims. This legal doctrine has two major prongs:

  • Employee: Technically, most truckers are independent contractors or owner-operators. However, these individuals are employees for negligence purposes. That’s because the employer controls truck drivers, in terms of things like cargo delivered or route travelled.
  • Scope of Employment: Florida law defines this point broadly as well. Any act which benefits the employer in any way is within the scope of employment. That includes pulling out of or into a truck stop for a brief rest.

Compensation in a large truck crash usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additional punitive damages might also be available, in some extreme cases.

Contact Dedicated Lawyers

Drowsy truck drivers often cause serious injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced Tampa trucking accident lawyer, contact The Matassini Law Firm. We do not charge upfront legal fees in injury cases.


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