Trucker Life: The Most Dangerous Time of the Day for Truckers

Trucker Life: The Most Dangerous Time of the Day for Truckers


Truckers have a challenging job. Driving can be a hazardous undertaking with distracted drivers, inclement weather, and construction barriers creating less than ideal working conditions. While driving at any time of the day can be a minefield, there are some times of the day that are more dangerous than others. By understanding these risks, you can be better prepared for a safe and efficient trip.

Most Accidents Occur Between Noon and 3:00 P.M.

According to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS), the majority of truck-related accidents occur between 12 p.m. and 3 p.m. This is a somewhat surprising, as conventional wisdom would suggest that busy rush hour traffic would create the highest risk of a crash. Statistically speaking, however, you are more likely to get into an accident during this short window of time than any other.

The IIHS reports that the majority of truck-involved fatal accidents occur between the daylight hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. And the highest number of fatalities happen right around lunchtime. There are several theories as to why these hours have consistently proven to be the most dangerous time of the day for drivers.

Some experts believe that the early morning and late evening rush hours bring with them heavier and slower traffic which requires slower speeds and frequent stops. Because of this, truckers are believed to be more likely to be alert and in a more active type of driving that requires full attention. During the slower periods of the day however, more open roads and less traffic can cause boredom, fatigue and distraction, all elements that make driving more dangerous overall.

The Majority of Fatal Truck Accidents Happen on Thursday

While most people would assume that the weekend would be the most likely days for accidents, the truth is that weekdays are far more dangerous. For passenger cars, the weekends bring drunk drivers, inexperienced drivers and increased traffic—all recipes for road accidents. In contrast, these days find fewer trucks on the road and fewer accidents overall.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, weekdays were the most dangerous days for truckers. The NTSB reports that more than 80 percent of fatal crashes involving tractor-trailers happened on weekdays. The theory is that since most trucking companies transport their cargo during the week, and many truckers take weekends off from work there are more trucks on the road, leading to more accidents. More trucks on the road means more accidents, making the weekdays the most dangerous time for truck drivers.

Trucking Accidents on the Rise

Despite numerous attempts by federal agencies to make the trucking industry safer, the number of accidents involving 18-wheelers is on the rise. The latest data from the National Highway Transportation Safety Board (NHSTA) from 2017 reports that fatal truck accidents increased nine percent from the year before. In contrast, fatal passenger vehicle related incidents decreased in the same time period.

Collisions that involved both a semi and a passenger car, the car’s occupant was the fatality in more than 72 percent of crashes. The trucker died as a result in 18 percent of those crashes. The NHTSA also reported that more than 25 percent of all fatal truck-related accidents occurred on major interstates, while the overwhelming majority, 58 percent, occurred on rural roads.

The Major Causes of Truck Accidents

While understanding the time of day that is most dangerous for truckers is important, it is only part of the picture. Knowing what causes these accidents and how to avoid them is critical to staying safe while on the road.

According to the IIHS, large trucks account for only four percent of the overall vehicles on the road, yet one in 10 highway deaths involve a truck. In most fatal crashes, the overwhelming cause is driver error. This error can be caused by a distracted driver who is using a handheld device or taking his attention off the road, a drowsy driver who falls asleep at the wheel or an inexperienced driver who makes a bad maneuver. Speeding, improperly loaded cargo, and impaired driving were also listed as major causes of fatal truck accidents.

Truck Driver Fatigue Contributes to Accidents

When most people think of trucker fatigue, they expect a driver to be most fatigued between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. That’s when the body’s circadian rhythm encourages sleep. The reality, however, is quite different. Most fatal accidents involving drowsy drivers occur in the early afternoon. The theory is that drivers are getting sleep at night, but not enough sleep to properly restore the body to its optimal state of alertness. A recent federal study that monitored 80 truckers for 7,500 hours showed that the average amount of sleep per driver was about 4.5 hours nightly. That’s not nearly enough for safe driving and overall truck safety.

As a result of this lack of sleep, many drivers wake up in the morning without proper rest, and around noon—about 5-6 hours after waking – they become drowsy and accidents occur. In essence, drivers are getting some sleep at night, just not enough.

Hours of Service and Mandatory Breaks: A Help or a Hindrance?

Federal regulations dictate how many hours truckers can work before they are required to take rest breaks. While these regulations are meant to keep tired drivers off the roads, they often create more problems than they solve. Drivers whose bodies are used to certain sleep schedules may find that the 30 minute breaks come at inopportune times. During the required break time, drivers may not be in a place where there is ample parking or facilities for a break. In essence, they spend the break dealing with the logistics of finding a place to rest instead of actually resting. Not only does this cause additional fatigue, it extends their workday by 30 minutes.

The regulations limit drivers to a 14-hour day and impose a mandatory 10-hour break at the end of that shift. In theory, this would force drivers to get a full night’s rest and drive safely the next day. But in reality, some drivers find these breaks inconvenient and will drive at high speeds in order to make up for lost time on the road.

Distracted Driving is a Real Problem

Distracted driving also plays a role in why so many daylight accidents occur. Anything that diverts a driver’s attention away from the task at hand can cause a fatal accident. Eating, using the GPS, talking on the phone, reaching for items in the truck or even looking at billboards on the side of the road can be enough of a distraction to cause a fatal wreck. These distractions are more likely to occur during the day. Eating meals, talking on the phone and looking at scenery are less likely in the middle of the night. Couple that with driver fatigue and slowed reaction time and you have a recipe for disaster.

What Can Drivers Do?

There are steps that you can take to promote truck safety for you and the other drivers on the road. First, get adequate rest and make sure you are getting restorative sleep nightly. Secondly, minimize distractions by using handsfree devices and keeping your eyes on the road. Finally, take steps to plan your route in advance to avoid pitfalls that might make the drive more difficult.

By understanding why fatal crashes happen, you will be in a better position to prevent them during dangerous times.

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