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Truck Driver Accidents Due to Fatigue: Know the Dangers

April 26, 2023

Author: Steven Gursten

Drowsy driving is a serious problem in the trucking industry, with the potential to cause devastating accidents. Truck drivers often work long hours and irregular schedules, which can lead to sleep deprivation and fatigue.

When drivers operate their vehicles while drowsy, their reaction times and decision-making abilities are impaired, putting themselves and others on the road at risk. Unfortunately, wrecks caused by truck driver fatigue are all too common, resulting in serious injuries, fatalities, and significant economic costs.

In this article, a truck accident lawyer explores how drowsy driving causes truck accidents, the effects of sleep deprivation on truck drivers, the prevalence of drowsy driving in the trucking industry, and strategies to prevent these accidents. It’s crucial to raise awareness about the dangers of driver fatigue and take action to prevent these accidents from happening in the future. 

How Driver Fatigue Affects Truckers

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimated that in 2017 alone, drowsy driving caused at least 91,000 crashes, resulting in 800 fatalities and 50,000 injuries. Additionally, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reports that driver fatigue is a factor in 13% of all serious truck accidents.

Sleep is crucial for maintaining physical and cognitive function, and when truck drivers do not get enough sleep, it can have a significant impact on their ability to safely operate their vehicles. When drivers are sleep-deprived, they are more likely to experience the following effects:

  • Impaired Reaction Times: Sleep deprivation can slow down a driver’s reaction time, making it harder to react to unexpected situations on the road. This can result in delayed braking or swerving, which can cause accidents.
  • Decreased Alertness: Lack of sleep can lead to decreased alertness and attention, causing fatigued drivers to miss important signs and signals on the road. This can lead to wrong turns, missed exits, and other errors that can increase the risk of accidents.
  • Poor Decision-Making: Sleep-deprived drivers may have difficulty making good decisions, such as determining when it’s safe to change lanes or pass another vehicle. They may also be more likely to take risks that could lead to accidents.
  • Memory and Cognitive Impairment: Sleep deprivation can also impair memory and cognitive function, making it harder for drivers to recall important information or follow complex instructions.

Overall, sleep deprivation can seriously limit a truck driver’s ability to operate their vehicles safely. Researchers have even compared driving after being up for 20 hours (for example, from 6:00 AM until 2:00 AM) to drunk driving and found them similarly dangerous.

To reduce the risk of fatigue-related accidents, drivers must prioritize getting enough sleep and employers must implement policies that ensure drivers have adequate rest periods.

RELATED: How Is Fault in a Truck Accident Determined?

Driver Fatigue Is a Common Problem in the Trucking Industry

Drowsy driving is a common issue in the trucking industry, with many drivers experiencing fatigue due to long hours and irregular schedules. Researchers have found that commercial truck drivers often are sleep deprived and do not get enough rest to remain alert on the job.

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), driver fatigue is a factor in 13% of all serious truck accidents.

Why Is Truck Driver Fatigue Such a Common Issue?

First, truck drivers don’t usually work 9-5 hours. Research shows that workers who have irregular work hours or work night shifts are more likely to be fatigued.

Commercial drivers are also under a lot of pressure to deliver on time and under budget. This can lead to reckless decisions, like speeding, skipping rest breaks, and long hours. Some trucking companies even pressure their drivers to break state and federal motor carrier safety rules, prioritizing profits over people.

The Hours of Service Rules

To address the issue of drowsy driving in the trucking industry, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has implemented regulations that require drivers to take rest breaks and limit the number of hours they can work per day or week. The HOS rules are supposed to ensure that fatigued truck drivers have adequate time to rest and recover between shifts, which can help reduce the risk of drowsy driving.

For example, the HOS rules require drivers to take a 30-minute break after working for eight consecutive hours and to take a minimum of 10 hours off-duty between shifts. Additionally, the HOS rules limit the number of hours that drivers can work per day and per week, with the goal of preventing drivers from becoming excessively fatigued.

While the Hours of Service regulations are designed to prevent fatigued driving, they are not foolproof. Some drivers and trucking companies may violate the HOS rules, either intentionally or unintentionally, which can lead to fatigue-related truck crashes. Furthermore, some truck drivers may ignore the signs of fatigue and continue driving even when they are tired, despite the HOS rules.

Overall, the HOS rules are an important tool in preventing drowsy driving in the trucking industry. However, it is important for drivers, trucking companies, and regulators to work together to ensure that the rules are followed and that drivers have adequate time to rest and recover between shifts.

The Consequences of Drowsy Driving Truck Accidents

Truck driver fatigue contributes to thousands of crashes every year. And the results are often catastrophic. Both innocent motorists and truck drivers can suffer life-changing injuries during a wreck. Their injuries often include traumatic brain injuries; orthopedic injuries to the back, neck, and hips; and emotional trauma. This can lead to lost wages, expensive medical bills, and immense pain and suffering.

Unfortunately, it’s not always easy for injured people to get the help they need. Insurance companies aggressively defend truck accident cases because they know that a lot of money is on the line. If you’re not careful, the trucking company and its insurance adjuster will try to minimize their negligence and your compensation.

That’s why many people turn to an experienced truck accident lawyer for help.

What to Do if You’re Injured by a Drowsy Truck Driver

Immediately after a truck wreck, you should call 911 and cooperate with the police officer’s investigation. If you suspect truck driver fatigue, make sure you report these concerns to the authorities. You should also seek immediate medical attention for your injuries.

Once these immediate needs are fulfilled, it’s a good idea to contact an experienced truck accident lawyer. If you can prove that truck driver fatigue or HOS violations contributed to your crash, you might be entitled to significant compensation. But if you don’t act quickly, evidence like electronic logbooks and dash cam footage will disappear.

Proving that someone was driving while drowsy can be challenging, as there is no objective test for drowsiness, like there is for intoxication. However, there are several ways that truck accident lawyers can build a case to show that a driver was drowsy at the time of the accident. Here are a few examples:

  • Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs): Many commercial trucks are equipped with ELDs that track the driver’s hours of service, including driving time, rest periods, and other activities. A truck accident lawyer can obtain access to these records through a subpoena and review them to determine whether the driver exceeded the maximum number of hours allowed by law.
  • Driver logs: In the absence of an ELD, a truck accident lawyer may review the driver’s logs, which are paper or electronic records that drivers are required to track their hours of service. These logs can be used to determine whether the driver exceeded the maximum number of hours allowed by law.
  • Police reports: Police officers who respond to the scene of the accident may note signs of fatigue or drowsiness in their reports. For example, they may report that the driver was yawning, had bloodshot eyes, or appeared to be nodding off. This information can be used as evidence of drowsy driving.
  • Witness statements: Eyewitnesses to the accident or other individuals who interacted with the tired truck driver leading up to the accident may provide statements that suggest the driver was working longer hours than allowed by law. For example, witnesses may report signs of driver drowsiness or that the trucker was complaining about long hours.
  • Medical records: If the driver sought medical treatment after the accident, their medical records may contain information about their level of fatigue or other factors that could have contributed to the accident. And sometimes, a truck driver’s DOT physicals will document medical conditions that can contribute to fatigue.
  • Company policies, procedures, and records: Lawyers may review the policies and procedures of the trucking company to determine whether they were in compliance with the hours of service rules. They might also get employees to admit that the company pressured drivers to work longer hours or encouraged a culture of carelessness.
  • Expert testimony: Lawyers may hire experts to testify about the effects of fatigue on driving ability and to provide insights into whether the driver was likely to have been fatigued at the time of the accident.

Lawyers often use a combination of these methods to uncover truck driver fatigue and hours of service violations after a truck accident. By demonstrating that the driver was working longer hours than allowed by law, lawyers can build a strong case that the driver was fatigued and that this contributed to the accident.

Truman Law Office: Count on the Colonel and Schedule Your Free Consultation Today

The attorneys at Karl Truman Law Office help truck accident victims in Louisville, Jeffersonville, and throughout Kentucky and Indiana get the compensation they deserve. If you or a loved one has been injured due to someone else’s negligence, they’re here to help.

When you choose Karl Truman Law Office to represent you, they’ll act as your advocate and use their legal experience and resources to fight relentlessly on your behalf until your case reaches a resolution.

Call the Karl Truman Law Office today at 502-222-2222 or fill out the contact form on our website to schedule your free consultation.

About Steven Gursten

Steven Gursten is a recognized leader in auto accident law in Michigan and nationwide. He is the current president of the American Association for Justice (AAJ) Distracted Driving Litigation Group, and a past-president of many other litigation groups and organizations. Steven speaks throughout the country every year, teaching lawyers on such subjects as trial advocacy, traumatic brain injury, truck accident litigation, and on maximizing auto accident settlements.

To learn more about his practice, please visit the Michigan Auto Law website.