USA Investigation Part 3: Companies Risk Lives by Pushing Truckers to Drive While Fatigued

An investigation by USA TODAY found that port trucking companies around Los Angeles are violating federal law and risking the lives of those on the road by pushing truck drivers to work with little or no sleep.

Federal rules require that commercial truck drivers take a 10-hour break every 14 hours. However, the investigation revealed that trucks serving the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach operated without a break 470 times a day, on average, and were involved in at least 189 accidents that occurred within a day of extended time on the clock.

Fatigued driving can lead to devastating consequences, such as falling asleep at the wheel and hallucinations. Tired drivers are less likely to see and be able to react to hazards on the road, which can lead to serious accidents. If you have been injured in an accident with a commercial truck, contact our Watertown truck accident lawyers for a free consultation.


Truck Drivers Pushed to Exhaustion

USA TODAY first reported on the working conditions of port truck drivers in June, when it revealed that truckers are forced to work extended hours against their will.

Reporters found that truck companies have forced drivers into debt by requiring them to buy their trucks through company-run lease-to-own contracts. However, instead of helping truckers pay off the trucks, the programs force them into jobs that pay almost nothing and push them to work past the point of exhaustion. If the drivers refuse to cooperate with the demanding schedules, they risk losing their job and truck, along with the thousands of dollars they have paid toward its purchase.

Although the companies have denied the allegations, workers have testified in labor court cases about the working conditions. Twenty Pacific 9 drivers have testified that they worked up to 19 hours a day and would not get paid unless they falsified inspection reports.

Lincoln Transportation has faced ongoing lawsuits alleging that the company has cheated drivers of fair pay, according to the USA TODAY investigation. One trucker testified in 2016 that he worked almost 15 hours a day, five days a week for three years. Between 2013 and 2016, the company’s trucks were involved in 29 crashes that injured six people, according to federal records.


580,000 Potential Time Violations

In its investigation, USA TODAY analyzed more than 30 million electronic time stamps generated each time a truck passed through the gates at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles between 2013 and 2016.

Investigators found approximately 580,000 potential time violations in which trucks appeared to be operating for more than 14 hours without the required full 10-hour break. If operated by one driver, each instance would be a violation of federal hours-of-service rules.

Researchers have found that port trucking is consistently one of the most dangerous sectors within the industry, as truckers are almost 50 percent more likely to break hours-of-service rules than those in other sectors.

Researchers have also found that trucking safety laws are not being enforced because they rely on carrier and driver honesty.


Poor Enforcement of Hours-of-Service Rules

The federal government first began limiting commercial truck drivers’ hours on the road in 1938. At that time, they could not drive more than 60 hours in a week. Today’s regulations dictate how long drivers can be on the road per day, how long they can drive and how many hours they must have off between shifts.

Despite these more stringent rules and growing evidence of the dangers of fatigued driving, the tools for tracking truckers’ hours have not changed much in nearly 80 years: They still rely on paper records. In late December 2017, new rules are set to go into effect that mandate the use of electronic log machines. However, it remains to be seen how quickly companies will comply with the new rule.

Furthermore, it is up to the companies to know and enforce the hours their drivers work. However, in an industry where it pays to move more goods, many companies seem willing to risk using tired drivers to get a competitive edge.

USA TODAY found that companies who violate these laws are rarely punished. Despite data showing thousands of potential violations, companies have been cited for breaking hours-of-service rules less than two percent of the time.

After reviewing five years of state inspection reports for 10 companies with histories of labor complaints, investigators uncovered more than 300 violations, only one of which involved a driver’s hours on the road. This is despite testimony from drivers stating that they have worked past the required limit.

USA TODAY data showed that Pacific 9 drivers operated past the legal limit more than 8,000 times between 2013 and 2016. Yet, when California Highway Patrol officers inspected the company, they found no evidence of excessive hours. Several Pacific 9 drivers have talked openly about violating fatigue laws.


Contact a Truck Accident Lawyer

When truck drivers violate hours-of-service rules they put the lives of everyone on the road at risk. Fatigued driving has many of the same risks as drunk driving and can lead to devastating accidents, injuries and death.

If you or someone you love has been injured in an accident involving a commercial truck, our truck accident attorneys can help you determine if you have a case and are entitled to compensation. We will review the trucker’s driving log to determine if any violations of hours-of-service rules or other laws led to your crash.

Contact D’Amico & Pettinicchi today to schedule a free, no obligation consultation. We do not get paid unless you receive compensation.