As the pandemic continues to make its way around the world, the United States had to deal with lockdowns, civil unrest, widespread unemployment, and a serious recession. The government struggled to get supplies to the people who need them. At the forefront of the effort to move goods to where they are needed most are professional truckers.
But the pandemic is putting them at greater risk than usual.
Increased demand for Logistics
The coronavirus has placed an immense strain on national supply chains. The demand for goods has spiked from panic-buying. Shortages of consumer and essential goods like toilet paper, groceries and hand sanitizer, protective gear for medical front-liners have driven the need for more delivery trucks on the road.
As social distancing measures are in place and companies try to implement measures to keep their employees safe, manufacturers are understaffed, creating further delays in loading and transport.
Trucking Companies Step Up But Take Shortcuts
Relaxed License Requirements. With this increased demand, both the government and trucking companies have had to make shortcuts to get more trucks on the road. Truck driver trainees can now operate a truck without a commercial driving license. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has issued a waiver the relaxes the restriction until June 30, 2020, or until the COVID-19 emergency is over. While this measure does put more drivers on the road (it also replaces many drivers who are in the age group that is most at risk from the virus), this also puts more inexperienced drivers behind the wheel.
Maximum Driving Hours Limitations are temporarily lifted. By law, long-haul drivers may only drive a maximum of 11 hours out of a 14-hour work period, after which they must spend at least 10 hours off-duty. But now, the government has allowed drivers with loads consisting of vital supplies (medical supplies, sanitation equipment, food) to go beyond the prescribed 11 hours.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that fatigue and falling asleep at the wheel was responsible for 91,000 crashes, with 50,000 people injured and almost 800 dead in 2017 alone. With more drivers on the road for more hours, it greatly increases the risk of getting into an accident.
The road stops closed down for health reasons, leaving drivers without roadside facilities. Most of these road stops, which were areas where drivers could park, rest, refuel, use restrooms, get meals, or check their vehicles for issues were closed down by the pandemic. While some have been reopened by the request of several trucking groups, these remain much fewer and farther between compared to pre-pandemic levels.
Increased Risk for Truckers
With fewer vehicles on the road, while people are staying home, speeding is on the rise. The Governors Highway Safety Association has reported a severe spike in speeding incidents from drivers during the pandemic. In New York, the epicenter of the virus spread in the U.S., 24,765 speeding tickets were issued in March, double the amount issued in April.
In Massachusetts, there have been lower incidents of crashes but increased fatality rates. While traffic volume is down, fewer crashes happen, but when they do, they are more serious. The pattern has been repeated throughout the country, with police clocking violators at speeds up to 30% greater than normal in major cities like Los Angeles.
Experienced truck accident lawyers have been very vocal about these increased risks to their clients. All of these responses to the outbreak have created environments of increased risk for the nation’s truck drivers. The increased demand and pressure to perform may drive risky behaviors on both individual and institutional levels.
With the nation depending more than ever on truck drivers for their needs, the government should consider more measures to ensure their safety.