Driving is a mentally and physically demanding task, especially for those behind the wheel of a big rig. Safe drivers focus their attention on the road. However, if a driver is drowsy or fatigued, operating a vehicle in traffic safely and effectively becomes much more difficult. Their reaction times decrease, as do their mental processing abilities. If they do fall asleep, the results can be disastrous.
Truck driver fatigue has been a significant safety concern contributing to fatal truck crashes for over 70 years. While the hours that truck drivers are permitted to work and their breaks are legally mandated, they still drive long hours and have demanding schedules. Some truckers force themselves to stay awake through long-haul drives without taking mandated and much-needed breaks to rest.
To make matters worse, employers often compensate truck drivers in ways that encourage driving faster and longer than is legal or safe. A truck may then drive in unsafe weather conditions to meet deadlines. This can cause them to lose focus, fail to practice safe driving techniques, and result in crashes.
Busy or overly fatigued truck drivers, including themselves, put everyone on the road in danger. Drivers must be willing to acknowledge when they are currently in a state where they cannot drive safely and make the safe decision to rest and sleep instead of getting behind the wheel.
Drivers can take many actions to prevent their fatigue, but they often fail to do so. Still, employers also bear the responsibility of ensuring the enforcement of safety regulations. Employers also often fail to take the proper steps to combat drowsy driving.
If you believe your truck accident resulted from a fatigued trucker or other negligent or reckless actions, don't hesitate to discuss your case with a knowledgeable truck accident attorney. With the support of a skilled legal advocate, you can more effectively fight to get the compensation you deserve.
The Dangers of Fatigued Drivers
Half of the adults in the U. S. admit to drowsy driving; worse yet, 20 percent have fallen asleep while operating a motor vehicle in the past year. One in 25 drivers says they fell asleep at least once in the last month while behind the wheel. Fatigue is the most common cause of truck driver error. Fatigue causes about 40 percent of all truck accidents.
When drivers don't get enough sleep before they get behind the wheel, it can substantially impact their cognitive and physical function.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), lack of sleep not only increases your chances of falling asleep or nodding off while driving but it can also:
- Slow reaction times, making it so the driver might be unable to react in time to avoid hitting something
- Lead to poor decision-making
- Make drivers experience "tunnel vision"
- Increases forgetfulness, including how many miles they have traveled.
Being fatigued or drowsy impacts a big rig driver's judgment, decision-making, attention, coordination, reaction times, and vigilance.
Tired truck drivers often:
- Have trouble maintaining the proper speed
- Weave or drift back and forth between lanes
- Struggle to keep a safe distance from other vehicles
- Fail to see other vehicles on the road
Many drowsy-driving truck accidents occur because a single driver drove off the road or into another traffic lane at high speeds.
Risk factors include
- Shift workers
- Professional drivers
- Young drivers
- Driving between midnight and 6:00 a.m. when the body tends to be sleepier
- Driving alone
- Driving on a monotonous road
- Driving for long hours
- Having less than six hours of sleep
- Chronic lack of enough sleep
- Sleep apnea
- Other sleep disorders
- Poor quality sleep
- Drivers who have medications or alcohol in their system
Other factors can lead to fatigued driving that you might not imagine, so you want an attorney to investigate the possibility of a drowsy driver causing your crash and injuries.
Hours of Service Laws
The commercial trucking industry is notorious for its drivers reporting dangerously long hours behind the wheel. Trucking companies frequently expect drivers to work shifts 20 hours or longer, six days a week. However, this unsafe practice is undoubtedly against current federal laws.
Recognizing that drowsy and fatigue driving is a significant and potentially deadly problem among truck drivers, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has enacted the following laws regarding sleep and hours of service and rest for truck drivers:
- 11-hour driving limit: Truckers may drive up to 11 hours after ten consecutive hours off duty.
- 14-hour limit: Truckers can't drive after the 14th consecutive hour on duty, following ten consecutive hours off duty. Off-duty time doesn't extend the 14 hours.
- 30-minute driving break: Truck drivers must take a minimum 30-minute break after driving for eight straight hours without at least a 30-minute interruption. Any non-driving period of 30 consecutive minutes can satisfy the break requirement, including on-duty not driving, off-duty, sleeper berth, or any combination of these taken consecutively.
- 60/70-hour limit: Truckers can't drive after 60/70 hours of being on duty within 7/8 consecutive days. A 7/8 successive day period may only begin after taking 34 or more consecutive hours off duty.
- Sleeper berth provision: Drivers are allowed to split their required ten-hour off-duty period if one off-duty period (be it in or out of the sleeper berth) is a minimum of two hours duration, and the other involves at least seven consecutive hours spent in the sleeper berth. All sleeper berth pairings must add up to at least ten hours. Neither period counts against the maximum 14-hour driving window when used together.
- Adverse driving conditions: Truck drivers can increase the 11-hour maximum driving time limit and 14-hour driving window by as much as two hours if they encounter adverse driving conditions.
- Short-haul exception: A trucker is exempt from the requirements of §395.8 and §395.11 if: they drive within a 150-air-mile radius of their routine work reporting location and don't exceed a maximum period of 14 hours on duty. Truckers relying on the short-haul exception must report and return to the routine work reporting location within 14 consecutive hours and remain within a 150-air-mile radius of the same work reporting location.
Employers who don't enforce these regulations are breaking federal law and putting all people on the road in danger. Anyone, including employees, who notices infractions of these laws, should report them to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Employers can't retaliate against employees who make a report. If an employer threatens or follows through with retaliation, they should also report it to the FMCSA.
Medical Conditions That Cause Drowsy Driving
Sometimes a driver becomes drowsy or falls asleep due to a known or undiagnosed sleep disorder or other health problem.
However, if your lawyer can establish that the driver or their employer (if applicable) negligently failed to recognize the signs of chronic fatigue and seek medical evaluation, they may still be held liable for your accident.
Medical conditions that can lead to drowsy driving include:
- Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)
Drivers diagnosed with the following also report frequent sleepiness:
- Certain heart conditions
- Complex internal health problems
- Parkinson's disease
Medications That Can Induce Drowsiness
In addition to certain medical conditions, taking particular prescriptions and over-the-counter medications can also make a truck driver feel fatigued or drowsy. Even a well-rested driver cannot drive safely on some of these medications.
Your attorney will investigate to see if the driver who caused your accident took:
- Cold or cough tablets/liquids
- Sleeping pills
- Some antihistamines (used for allergies), such as Benadryl
- Some antidepressants
- Narcotic pain pills
- Muscle relaxants
- Some high blood-pressure pills
Truck Driver Fatigue Violates Duty of Care
Truck drivers and their employers owe others on the road a duty of care. In other words, they must act in the same way as a reasonably sensible individual in their position will.
For instance, a reasonable driver will not run a red light. They will obey the law and stop in the appropriate spot at the appropriate time. If a truck driver runs a red light, causing an accident, they and potentially their employer becomes liable for the damages they cause because they breached their duty of care.
Likewise, drivers and their employers fail to adhere to their duty of care in many ways regarding drowsy driving.
This occurs when truck drivers fail to:
- Get enough sleep (about seven to nine hours every night)
- Pull over and stop driving if they feel fatigued or drowsy
- Monitor themselves for signs of fatigue such as yawning, drooping head, heavy eyelids, frequent blinking, difficulty focusing, daydreaming, trouble recalling the last few minutes of driving, drifting between lanes, hitting rumble strips, missing exits or signs, and restlessness, irritability, or aggressiveness
- See a medical professional for health problems that might be impacting their sleep if they feel chronically drowsy
- Be honest about incidents that can be fatigue-related
- Report fatigue or drowsiness in others to a supervisor
- Take mandatory rest breaks as required by FMCSA law
- Follow federal rules regarding driving hours and rest periods
- Monitor the effects of any prescription medication they take
- Abstain from alcohol or drug consumption
It also occurs if employers fail to:
- Draft and enforce policies setting overtime limits and the maximum allowable successive work shifts
- Give employees rest breaks or allow naps in some circumstances
- Have adequate staffing for their needs
- Educate and train employees on managing fatigue and proper sleep
- Have a sleep disorder screening and management program in place
- Suggest that employees use an instrumented wristband to help track their fatigue
- Provide employees with fatigue-signs checklists and encourage self-reporting
- Encourage co-workers to engage in peer monitoring of fatigue signs
- Evaluate information provided by in-vehicle monitoring systems to identify potential fatigue signs and episodes, including drifting into the other lane or onto the shoulder
- Teach and require incident investigators to review possible fatigue in any incidents and near-miss incidents
Did a Fatigued Truck Driver Hit You?
You can be entitled to compensation if a fatigued truck driver caused your accident. The best way to determine if you are is to speak to a well-versed truck accident attorney in your area. Fatigued driving cases can be challenging since there's no concrete proof that a driver was drowsy or sleep-deprived.
However, you can increase your chances of receiving compensation if you work with a lawyer experienced in representing clients in these accidents. A truck accident lawyer can gather evidence to establish that the truck driver who hit you was fatigued or drowsy.
This evidence might include:
- Lack of tire skid marks at the accident scene, which may indicate that a drowsy driver didn't attempt to stop the vehicle
- Testimony of other passengers or eyewitnesses
- Cell phone records, social media posts, and credit card records can prove that the drowsy driver who hit you had been awake for a lengthy period of time
- Prescription records for medications that commonly cause drowsiness
- Medical records showing they had a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea
- Employment or school attendance records, which might reveal that the motorist was suffering from a chronic lack of sleep
- The truck driver's log books and other records
- Black box data from the truck
Contact a Truck Accident Attorney Today
The trucking industry is imperative to our way of life. However, it also takes many lives and drastically and negatively alters others. When truckers and trucking companies put profits and productivity above people's safety and well-being, the chances of an accident significantly increase. Fatigue is no excuse for an accident, and the trucking industry needs to do better.
If you or a family member suffered injuries in such an accident, don't hesitate to contact a personal injury attorney in San Antonio for help. You can be entitled to compensation for your injuries and damages. You can find out by meeting with a truck accident attorney as soon as possible after your accident.