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Alcohol and distractions among truck drivers pose serious risks on the road

Sometimes, you can't make this stuff up.

The headline reads: "Driver crashes truck while driving drunk, changing pants."

Fortunately, there isn't much more to the story than this: the driver rolled his semi truck on a Vermont interstate but did not collide with any other vehicles so he was able to tell his side of the story afterward. The story? He set the truck's cruise control, then stood up to change his pants, with his blood alcohol content of .209, five times the legal limit for truck drivers. He had minor injuries, and will be facing charges and penalties.

This example may be rare because drivers of large trucks rarely have high blood alcohol content due to strict regulations. But that doesn't mean there aren't other risks and distractions for big truck drivers, including drugs, inattention, fatigue, as well as equipment neglect and failure. Sharing the road with big trucks can be dangerous, even if 99 percent of them are doing everything by the book. If you encounter the one percent, you could be fatally injured.

Will truck driving become safer in the future?

We know that most victims of large truck accidents are passengers in cars. Approximately 10 percent of highway deaths involve a large truck crashing into a car or cars (bicyclists, pedestrians and motorcyclists also get killed). Trucks are heavier, taller and can't stop as quickly. They're also more likely to roll over.

Fortunately, some changes are coming to improve safety in 2017, which everyone hopes will reduce the number and severity of accidents, but you remain at risk. You might think if you don't go out at night, you're safe-but according to a study, more fatalities occurred between noon and 3 p.m. than any other time of day (17 percent).

Truck drivers are tired, pushing the limit of how many hours they can work. Federal regulations allow truck drivers to operate for 11 hours at a time, and up to 77 hours per week. Yet some work even longer hours, making them unable to react quickly and more likely to make poor decisions-including staying on the road while sleep-deprived. Some drivers may be young and inexperienced, making them more at risk of getting into an accident.

Unfortunately, there's not much you can do, other than staying out of trucks' blind spots and following all the road rules yourself. Be on the alert for trucks drifting in their lanes and stay out of their way. If you do find yourself dealing with damage and injuries from an accident with a large truck, consult an experienced attorney right away.

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