Can Truckers’ Declining Health Lead to More Accidents?December 28, 2021
Piloting a huge 18-wheeler can be dangerous enough, but when truck drivers are not in good health, the risk factors escalate even higher. A study in the Journal of Occupational and Environment Medicine shows that drivers who have serious health issues had more incidents of preventable collisions, and this is something we should all be concerned about. In fact, the more health problems a driver had, the higher the chances were of getting into accidents.
It is not unusual for one truck driver to have multiple problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity, and these kinds of combinations do not pose well for safe driving. The study looked at 38,000 truck driver medical records and truck accident statistics; those who had at least three ailments had an accident frequency of 93 for every million miles. This is much greater that the number of accidents for all drivers, which was 29 for every million miles.
Does Driving a Truck Cause Health Problems?
By its very nature, long-distance truck driving is a sedentary profession, and spending most of one’s time sitting in the same position is not good for health or wellness. There are no real options for regular exercise, unless the individual sets a regular schedule for working out and sticks to it. Many drivers sleep in their truck’s sleeping cabs or in hotels and barely have time to wake up, grab a bite to eat, and hit the road. After coming home from a long haul, they are often so exhausted that they drop into bed right away. Those who have sleep apnea or other sleeping disorders probably may not ever get a good night’s sleep and end up driving fatigued during most of their working hours.
Although some truck drivers might bring salads and other healthy foods along for the ride, it is more common for them to hit truck stops and other places for food. No fruit platters here; instead, they might just grab whatever is fast and easy, such as a burger and fries. Should a truck driver fall ill when on a trip, he or she could be hundreds of miles from their doctor and may put off going when they are not well.
Besides the lack of exercise, sleep, and healthy food, truck drivers can experience musculoskeletal injuries from sitting down for such long stretches of time. They can have back problems; neck problems; and shoulder, arm, and hand problems that cause symptoms such as lowered range of movement and an inability to react quickly enough in dangerous situations such as brakes failing. Truck drivers also experience a lot of stress, especially during the holiday season, to make pickups and deliveries on time; when there is poor weather or heavy traffic; or if a supervisor is putting serious pressure on them. This is how they can develop psychological problems that could also affect their driving
How Can a Truck Driver’s Poor Health Cause an Accident?
It is not hard to imagine how those declining health conditions can lead to road accidents. Sleep apnea is frequently caused by obesity, so that truck drivers described earlier might have slow reaction times, make poor judgments, or even fall asleep behind the wheel when driving. One who has a high blood pressure and a heart condition could very well have a heart attack while driving and completely lose control of the vehicle. Diabetes can lead to neuropathy, which is characterized by numbness, tingling, and pain in the extremities. Trying to drive a tractor trailer with pain in one’s fingers and feet can be quite challenging and can also throw off the ability to apply pressure to the brakes, turn the steering wheel, and use the dashboard controls.
A truck driver who succumbs to the difficulties of the lifestyle may choose to turn to alcohol and drugs, and everyone knows the dangers of consuming either or both before and while driving. The hazards multiply exponentially when a driver is controlling a large truck and there are others around. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) posts that most fatalities in truck-involved accidents are passenger vehicle occupants.
What Do the Statistics Show about Truck Driver Health?
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) conducted a survey of 1,265 long-haul truckers at 32 truck stops in the United States and recorded information their demographics, work practices, driving histories, health and medical conditions, driving environments, sleep, and fatigue. NIOSH found out that 69 percent were obese, compared with 31 percent of the general population; 51 percent smoked cigarettes, compared with 19 percent of the general population; and 61 percent claimed that they had at least two of the following: obesity, smoking, no physical activity, six or less hours of sleep during the past 24 hours, and hypertension.
Those surveyed also had higher body mass, smoked more cigarettes, had less physical activity, and were not as likely to get their annual flu vaccinations. Some of these drivers also reported that they did not wear their seat belts consistently. Interestingly, NIOSH also looked at 16 different truck stops in the United States to see what the settings were like; long-haul truckers spend significant amounts of time in these kinds of stops, so this information was also valuable for the report. Some but not all the stops had medical clinics within walking distance. None of the stops had exercise facilities, just six percent had access to health care, and 19 percent had walking paths. At all their restaurants or stores, 50 percent did not have fresh fruit and 37 percent had no vegetables. The study concluded that long-haul trucker working conditions may impose major barriers for healthy behaviors, and that transportation and health professionals should be addressing this need.
Although the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) does require truck drivers to get medical examinations once every two years, a lot can happen during that time; a minor condition could easily develop into a very serious one without a doctor’s care. The FMCSA believes that truck drivers who have four or more of these medical conditions should not be driving at all. Their list includes diabetes, if the driver is on medication; cardiovascular disease; hypertension; renal disease; musculoskeletal disease; major psychiatric illness; and opioid abuse. They also call on trucking companies to be aware of the problem and to help their drivers. This can be done by encouraging drivers to get treatment, promoting healthy eating, and not overscheduling drivers.
Should I Be Worried about Large Trucks This Holiday Season?
The answer to this question is an unqualified yes. As of last year, there were more than 1.9 million employed tractor trailer and heavy truck drivers in the United States. With more and more people ordering holiday gifts and supplies online, you can expect that our roads and highways will have even more large trucks and fatigued drivers than ever before.
The safest way to drive around large trucks is to not drive around them; maintain as much distance as possible. They have larger blind spots than passenger vehicles and take longer to come to a stop. If you are tailgating and they slam on their brakes, it could be disastrous for you and your passengers. Try to drive during daylight hours, avoid rush hour traffic, and listen to the weather and traffic reports before leaving your house. Assume that the truck driver is under pressure and give them the benefit of the doubt. If you see that a truck is swerving, speeding, or exhibiting other unsafe moves, have a passenger call 911 or pull over somewhere safe and do it yourself.
Baltimore Truck Accident Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Help Clients Involved in an Accident Caused by a Negligent Truck Driver
Tractor trailers and other trucks can seem large and imposing on the road, and other drivers have good reason to be concerned about their own safety when trucks are near. If you or someone you care for was hurt in a truck accident, reach out to the knowledgeable Baltimore truck accident lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton. Our team will thoroughly investigate the cause of the accident and fight to secure the compensation for which you are entitled. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.
Our offices are conveniently located in Baltimore, Columbia, Glen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent victims throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel County, Carroll County, Harford County, Howard County, Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, Queen Anne’s County, Maryland’s Western Counties, Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of Catonsville, Essex, Halethorpe, Middle River, Rosedale, Gwynn Oak, Brooklandville, Dundalk, Pikesville, Parkville, Nottingham, Windsor Mill, Lutherville, Timonium, Sparrows Point, Ridgewood, and Elkridge.