We share our roadways, not knowing much about the driver in the car next to us. There are risks, and consequences can be big, especially if you're in an accident involving a big rig.
For truck drivers, surviving long days and nights behind the wheel can cause some to break the rules. Driving under the influence is a problem, no matter what size vehicle you're in. But there is something else happening on our roads, and it's much harder to regulate.
"Collisions involving commercial vehicles are horrific," said Arizona Department of Public Safety Captain Ken Hunter. "It's a very simplistic saying but the saying is, 'Big trucks, big crashes.'"
Truck drivers have a saying, too: "Time is money."
"The longer you're sitting the more money you spend," said Larry Bell, a truck driver from Shreveport, LA.
Caffeine is a friend to most drivers you'll find at the Triple T, Tucson's only truck stop. Truckers deal with long days and sometimes face tough conditions on the roads.
Dallas Maddox who has been a truck driver since 1991 says drivers do things they shouldn't to stay awake, but "not as much as used to be."
"Truck drivers used to do a lot of stuff, illegal stuff they shouldn't and some of them still do," Bell said. "It's out there and everybody knows it and you just hope you're not around one of them at the wrong time."
According to DPS, 31 people in our state died in 2010 in accidents involving commercial vehicles. In 2011, 42 people died in accidents involving commercial vehicles.
There is a special group with DPS that monitors and inspects big rigs. Plus, federal guidelines are strict. Truck drivers cannot drink any alcohol four hours before getting behind the wheel. But, it still happens. DPS cites dozens of drivers each year for having alcohol or drugs in their cabs, or in their blood.
"It's cross country," Bell said. "California, East Coast, West Coast, North and South. A lot of these truck drivers do drugs. Well, I'm not going to say a lot. Well a lot of them do because there's a lot of truck drivers. But there's a lot of them that don't."
But law enforcement sees an even bigger problem, one that is harder to regulate.
"Being fatigued is probably worse than being under the influence of alcohol or a narcotic," Captain Hunter said.
Hunter cited several examples of accidents caused because the driver fell asleep.
Truck drivers are not permitted to drive more than 11 hours per day.
"Tired drivers do happen," said truck driver Michael Bacon. "For me to say otherwise, that'd be a lie."
Change is coming. Federal regulators will start enforcing more required break times for drivers this summer. And there is a push to mandate electronic logging devices for all trucks, instead of letting drivers manually record them.
"We have the infrastructure and we're located in an area where we're going to continue having a lot of commercial vehicles on the road," Hunter said.
DPS says it is seeing an increase in truck drivers using marijuana. Some drivers have medical marijuana cards but all big-rig drivers follow federal rules and federal rules prohibit pot for medicinal use.
Hunter says most truck drivers on the road follow the rules and are safe drivers, and some accidents are caused by other drivers.
The Arizona Department of Transportation partners with the Arizona Trucking Association to teach a course called "Teens and Trucks: Share the Road." The course provides newer drivers information about driving safely, especially around big rigs.
For more on the course, visit the following link:
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