In a recent report released by an investigative news team, it came to light that the Tennessee Department of Transportation does not practice what it preaches. The slogan “Don’t Drive Drowsy” is used by TDOT on overhead message boards to create awareness of the dangers of drowsy driving. During the severe snow storms experienced at the beginning of this year, however, some drivers worked for periods of between 60 and 80 hours clearing roads. Snow plows and salt trucks are responsible for making roads safe for other users, particularly those who have to respond to emergencies. If they are required to work for such long hours, the possibility of a truck accident becomes a significant threat.
Concerns were raised about the danger of having drivers work for such long periods without sufficient rest. They were included in a letter sent anonymously from a group of concerned TDOT employees. When one considers the fact that driver fatigue played a role in at least 8,000 Tennessee accidents between 2010 and 2016, of which 43 were fatal, one can understand their concerns. Currently, there are no reports of any incidents involving a fatigued snow plow or salt truck driver, but the situation remains risky.
Given the nature of a snow plow and/or salt truck driver’s job, federal law allows for them to work for as many hours as is necessary in the given situation. Unfortunately, this may create problems in cases of severe storms. When one considers how tiring it is drive for a period of 12 hours without rest, there is little doubt how taxing it must be on these drivers. This is particularly true when one considers the vibrations of the truck, the noise and the strain on drivers’ eyes in looking at a white landscape for extended periods of time.
The risks involved for the Tennessee Department of Transportation in this instance are twofold. Should a truck accident happen involving a fatigued driver, TDOT may not only have to answer to a workers’ compensation claim, but also a personal injury or wrongful death claim in case of serious injury or death. In a successfully litigated claim, a court may find that the Department acted negligently by allowing a driver to work for too many hours, resulting in an award of damages to aggrieved parties.
Source: wjhl.com, “Public TDOT records reveal snow plow drivers worked 60 to 80 hours with limited sleep”, Nate Morabito, March 14, 2016