We’ve often heard about the horrors that take place in garment sweatshops in countries like the Philippines, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. The International Labor Rights Forum reports that as many as 1,600 garment workers have died in fires and building collapses. These statistics don’t factor in the number of workers who suffer sexual harassment, are paid unfair wages, and who work long and exhausting hours.

We don’t like to imagine that sweatshop labor could be happening right in our own country, but according to two university professors writing for the New York Times, this is exactly the case. And, this kind of sweatshop labor puts drivers at risk. While we rely on semi truck drivers to move goods and food across the country, more drivers are leaving the industry due to low pay and terrible working conditions. While drivers are under strict regulations from the Department of Transportation, the drivers are not regulated by the Department of Labor. This can have immense implications for safety and for semi truck accident incidence.

According to the researchers, truck drivers often work 14 hour shifts, without weekend breaks, and they don’t get paid extra for holidays. When they get sick, they also don’t get paid. This puts increased pressure on truck drivers to drive even when they aren’t feeling well. Drivers will often be behind the wheel for 11 hours and spend the other three unloading goods, maintaining the vehicle, and waiting. This is all legal. Hours of service laws allow for these conditions to continue. The reality is that hours of service laws simply aren’t doing enough to protect truck drivers, and by extension, the laws fail to protect everyday drivers on the road.

As a result of these working conditions, older drivers leave the industry. The consequences? Trucking companies hire younger drivers. They hire the very same age demographic that is subject to higher insurance rates due to their statistical propensity to get into accidents. 18 year olds are currently allowed to drive 18 wheelers across state lines.

Another way truck drivers are subject to sweatshop-like conditions is that though the government regulates hours of service, the government doesn’t tell trucking companies what they can and cannot do with drivers when they are off duty. Drivers may not be on the road, but there’s no way to know whether they’re getting the rest they need—or whether they’re in an office doing paperwork.

Sweatshop conditions lead to greater illness, psychological stress, and harm. We hardly want people driving multi-ton semi trucks suffering from these kinds of pressures. Yet, if the researchers writing for the New York Times are accurate in their assessment—this is just what we are allowing to happen.

Truck companies and the government have a responsibility to protect drivers on the road. By making sure that truck drivers are well-rested, well cared for, and experienced, roadways can be made safer for everyone. As it stands, regulations don’t go far enough and they don’t address the ways labor affects road safety. Until laws are changed, Kentucky victims of semi truck accidents will be forced to pursue justice in civil courts.  Matt Troutman with Troutman Law Office in Lexington works with those that have been injured as a result of someone else’s negligence. Call 859-696-0001 or visit www.kyautoaccidentattorney.com.