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How Does Driver Fatigue Lead to Serious Trucking Accidents?

Tired truck driver, fatigued driver

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) survey states that fatigue is a significant factor in thousands of trucking accidents yearly. With extended hours and irregular schedules, truck drivers are often sleep-deprived and fatigued, which impairs their reaction times and decision-making abilities. Unfortunately, accidents caused by drowsy driving are frequent and can result in severe injuries, fatalities, and significant economic losses.

What Factors Contribute to Driver Fatigue in Truck Accidents? 

Hours of service violations, unrealistic deadlines, health conditions, and driving under the influence of drugs are several factors that can cause driver fatigue in truck accidents. Here’s a closer look at each factor and how it causes trucking accidents:

Non-Compliance with Hours of Service Regulations

Non-compliance with hours of service regulations causes driver fatigue, which ultimately leads to truck accidents. To eliminate the risk of drowsy driving, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has imposed regulations that lessen the number of hours a driver can work per day or week and require them to take rest breaks. These hours of service (HOS) rules ensure that fatigued drivers receive sufficient rest and recovery time between shifts.

However, many drivers and trucking companies still fail to comply despite the strict rules. Trucking companies must ensure that their drivers adhere to the HOS rules, but unfortunately, many encourage and even force their drivers to keep going longer than they should. This results in driver fatigue, leading to severe and fatal trucking accidents.

Excessive Pressure to Meet Deadlines or Tight Schedules

When truck drivers face pressure to meet tight deadlines, they are more likely to spend long hours driving without taking necessary breaks, leading to driver fatigue and accidents. This fatigue can then lead to impaired driving abilities, including slower reaction times, decreased concentration, and impaired decision-making skills.

The core issue here involves balancing timely deliveries with safety. Truck drivers, worried about losing their jobs if they’re late, often choose to meet deadlines even if it’s risky. This can be dangerous for everyone on the road. That’s why trucking companies should focus more on safety than on making money. They need to give their drivers the FMCSA-approved breaks. These rules help limit how much drivers can work daily and week to prevent them from getting too tired.

Pre-existing Health Conditions and Sleep Disorders

Pre-existing health conditions and sleep disorders can exacerbate the truck driver’s fatigue and, thus, cause accidents. Even temporary illnesses like the flu or chronic diseases such as diabetes can lead to fatigue. Therefore, it’s essential for truck drivers experiencing illness to seek medical attention and refrain from driving until they have fully recovered.

Driver fatigue can also result from sleep apnea, a widespread disorder affecting sleep. It causes intermittent breathing pauses during sleep, leading to inadequate rest. Despite spending sufficient time in bed, sleep apnea causes persistent fatigue due to poor sleep quality. Alarmingly, this condition is prevalent among truck drivers, with studies indicating that up to 21% of truckers are at risk

Sleep apnea not only affects the driver’s health but also substantially increases the risk of accidents because it causes extreme drowsiness during the day. Therefore, truck drivers must be aware of their risk for sleep apnea and seek medical attention if they suspect they might have the condition.

Influence of Sedative Medications or Alcohol 

Another critical factor contributing to driver fatigue in truck accidents is the use of sedative medications or alcohol. These substances can significantly impair a driver’s alertness and reaction time, exacerbating the risks associated with long hours on the road. 

Sedative medications, often prescribed for sleep disorders or anxiety, can have lingering effects that diminish a driver’s ability to stay awake and focused. Even when taken as prescribed, these medications can lead to drowsiness, reduced concentration, and slower reaction times. All these side effects are detrimental to safe driving.

Similarly, alcohol use is a significant concern in the trucking industry. Although most professional drivers are aware of the dangers of drunk driving, it is essential to know that even minimal alcohol intake can impair driving abilities. Alcohol affects judgment, coordination, and reaction time, making it extremely dangerous for truck drivers who need to remain vigilant at all times. Trucking companies need to enforce strict policies against alcohol use and monitor for compliance to ensure the safety of their drivers and other passenger vehicles.

The rules by FMCSA forbid truck drivers from using alcohol within four hours before starting their duty and from driving a commercial vehicle if their blood alcohol level is 0.04% or above.

Moreover, companies are required to conduct random alcohol testing to ensure compliance. Despite these regulations, the influence of alcohol and sedative medications remains a significant factor in driver fatigue, contributing to the risk of accidents on the roads.

Statistics Showing Truck Accidents Due to Driver Fatigue 

As noted by the U.S. Transportation Secretary, nearly 4,000 people lose their lives in large truck crashes each year, with driver fatigue being a leading cause. These statistics are truly staggering and highlight driver fatigue as a significant threat when it comes to truck accidents.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) arranged a comprehensive “Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts” study in 2020. This study, which offers the most current data available, highlights the alarming role of fatigue as a contributing factor in fatal truck accidents over three years:

  • In 2018, out of 4,832 drivers of large trucks involved in fatal crashes, 62 were found to be impaired by fatigue.
  • During 2019, 72 out of 4,977 fatigued drivers caused fatal truck crashes.
  • In 2020, 68 out of 4,777 fatal crashes were due to fatigued drivers. 
Statistics of truck accidents due to fatigued/tired drivers

What Are the Consequences of Drowsy Driving?

Drowsy driving can impair driving ability in numerous ways, leading to severe accidents and fatalities. It is a serious concern affecting thousands of drivers annually in the United States. Let’s have a closer look at each consequence in detail:

Reduced Reaction Time

One of the most significant consequences of drowsy driving is a reduced reaction time. When driving while drowsy, your brain’s response to sudden changes in traffic or road conditions slows down, leading to a delayed reaction time. This can result in accidents you could have avoided if you were alert and awake.

Impaired Judgment and Decision-Making

Fatigue impairs your judgment and decision-making skills. As your brain struggles to stay awake, assessing traffic situations accurately and making informed decisions may become challenging. This can lead to poor decision-making and putting yourself and others in danger.

Decreased Attention and Concentration on the Road

When you’re driving while tired, your attention and concentration on the road decrease significantly. You may daydream or lose focus on the task at hand, increasing your chances of making mistakes. This lack of focus can distract you from staying in your lane or maintaining a safe speed.

Increased Risk of Falling Asleep at the Wheel

The most severe consequence of drowsy driving is the risk of falling asleep while driving. This can result in a deadly crash you could avoid if you had taken the necessary precautions. Falling asleep while driving is a prevalent cause of accidents on highways and can lead to severe injuries and fatalities.

To avoid the consequences of drowsy driving, always prioritize your sleep and rest. If you feel drowsy or fatigued while driving, you must pull over and take a break. Also, consider traveling with a companion who can help you stay alert and take turns driving. Remember, a few minutes of rest can save your life and the lives of others on the road.

Federal Regulations in Preventing Driver Fatigue 

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) actively regulates the amount of time truck drivers can spend driving, aiming to reduce fatigue. Since 2013, enhanced hours-of-service (HOS) regulations have been in place to ensure drivers aren’t overworked.

Key elements of these HOS rules are:

  • A truck driver’s work week cannot exceed 70 hours.
  • After hitting this limit, a driver must take a 34-hour break before driving again.
  • Drivers must take a 30-minute break within the initial 8 hours of their shift.

Despite the known risks associated with driver fatigue, there have been petitions to FMCSA over expanding these HOS regulations. However, these petitions would allow truckers to drive for 11 hours daily, take a 34-hour break over the weekend, and then drive up to 77 hours in 7 days. Fortunately, federal courts or FMCSA have not yet accepted all these.

What Should You Do if Hit by a Drowsy Truck Driver?

If you’ve faced an accident due to a drowsy truck driver, your immediate priorities should be ensuring safety and documenting the incident. First, call 911 to get emergency assistance and report the accident. This step is crucial for your safety and legal purposes. When the police arrive, share any suspicions about the truck driver’s drowsiness, as your observations can be vital for the police report.

After addressing immediate safety concerns, seek medical attention, even if you feel fine. Some internal injuries may not appear immediately, and a medical evaluation will provide essential documentation of any injuries you sustained. This medical record is vital for your health, and as evidence in any legal action you may take.

Once you’ve taken care of these immediate steps, the following necessary action is to consult with a truck accident lawyer. An experienced attorney in this field will guide you through the complexities of your case, especially if it involves proving truck driver fatigue or hours of service (HOS) violations. They can also act quickly to preserve critical evidence, such as electronic logbooks and dashcam footage, which are crucial for substantiating your claim.

How Does a Lawyer Prove Driver Fatigue in a Truck Accident? 

Serious trucking accidents

To prove driver fatigue in a truck accident, lawyers meticulously gather and analyze various forms of evidence, from electronic logs to eyewitness accounts, to establish the driver’s state at the time of the accident.

Access to Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs)

Key to this process is accessing Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs), which are now common in commercial trucks. These devices record the driver’s service hours, including driving time and rest breaks. Lawyers can subpoena these records to check if the driver exceeded legal driving limits, a strong indicator of fatigue.

If the Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) are unavailable, the truck accident lawyer may review the driver’s logs. These logs, containing records of the driver’s hours of service, are either in paper or electronic form.

By examining the logs, the lawyer can determine whether the driver exceeded the legal limit of driving hours. This information is crucial in identifying fatigued driving, which is one of the leading causes of serious truck accidents.

Obtain a Police Report Showing Signs of Driver Fatigue or Drowsiness 

Police reports from the accident scene are invaluable. Officers often note symptoms of fatigue, sleep deprivation, or drowsiness, like yawning, bloodshot eyes, or signs of dozing off. Such observations in the report can be crucial evidence of driver fatigue.

Take Statements From the Eyewitnesses About the Driver’s Condition

It is essential to gather statements from eyewitnesses after an accident involving a fatigued truck driver. These individuals may have interacted with the driver before the accident, noticed signs of drowsiness, or heard complaints about working long hours. 

Moreover, obtaining eyewitness accounts can provide valuable insights into the driver’s physical and mental condition leading to the accident. However, it is essential to ensure that any statements obtained are accurate and not influenced by external factors.

Gather Medical Records Showing the Driver’s Level of Fatigue

Reviewing the driver’s medical records post-accident can reveal information about their fatigue levels. Additionally, a driver’s Department of Transportation (DOT) physicals may document fatigue-related conditions, offering further evidence.

Hire Expert Witnesses to Analyze the Effects of Fatigue on a Truck Driver

Expert witnesses, such as trucking industry specialists, can elucidate the effects of fatigue on driving. Their testimony can provide a professional assessment of whether the driver was likely tired during the accident.

Examining Company Policies and Records

Lawyers may scrutinize the policies and procedures of the trucking company to determine whether they comply with the hours of service rules. Additionally, they could inquire whether the company urged drivers to extend their working hours or promoted a careless work environment.

Through a combination of these methods, truck accident lawyers build a comprehensive case to demonstrate that driver drowsiness and fatigue were significant factors in truck accidents. Each piece of evidence works together to present a clear picture of the incident’s circumstances.

Reach Out to Uptown Injury Truck Accident Attorneys for a Free Consultation!

Don’t wait to seek legal support if you have faced a truck accident. The truck accident attorneys at Uptown Injury Law, PLLC, have over 15 years of experience and have settled over $100 million for clients like you. 

We are experts in truck accident litigation, including the various evidence collection methods and the detailed federal regulations governing the trucking industry. Our team leaves no stone unturned when investigating and building your case. We analyze crash reports, driver medical records, and other evidence to determine if fatigue or other factors played a role in the accident.

Don’t settle for less. Fight back against lowball insurance offers with our dedicated team by your side. Call us today at 917-540-8728 for a no-cost, no-obligation consultation. Let us be your advocates in securing the justice and compensation you deserve.

FAQs

How Do Fatigued Truck Drivers Cause Accidents?

Fatigued truck drivers often have impaired judgment and slower reaction times, thus increasing the risk of accidents. When truck drivers are tired, their ability to assess situations quickly and respond appropriately on the road is significantly diminished, leading to potentially dangerous outcomes.

What Are the Regulations for Commercial Motor Vehicle Drivers to Prevent Driver Fatigue?

Commercial motor vehicle drivers have to adhere to strict regulations that limit their hours of continuous driving and mandate adequate rest periods. These rules ensure that drivers are well-rested and alert, reducing the likelihood of fatigue-related accidents.

Why Is It Important for a Trucking Accident Attorney to Review Driver Logs in Truck Accident Cases?

Reviewing driver logs helps a trucking accident attorney determine if the commercial driver complied with federal rest guidelines. This can be crucial in establishing liability, especially if the driver admitted to or is suspected of being fatigued during the accident.

How is Fatigue Among Commercial Truck Drivers More Fatal From Tired Car Drivers?

Fatigue in commercial truck drivers is often more fatal due to the substantial size and weight of their vehicles. Long haul drivers, in particular, face unique challenges with extended periods of driving, making them more susceptible to fatigue than typical passenger vehicle drivers.

Can a Passenger Vehicle Be at Fault in Fatigue-Related Accidents With a Commercial Truck?

Yes, a passenger vehicle can be at fault if the fatigued driver’s actions contribute to an accident with a commercial truck. However, each accident is unique, and determining fault involves examining the behavior of all parties involved.

What Steps Can Commercial Drivers Take to Prevent Driver Fatigue on Long Journeys?

Commercial drivers can prevent fatigue by adhering to regulated driving hours, taking regular breaks for rest, and ensuring they get enough sleep before long journeys. Adequate planning and recognizing the signs of fatigue are also vital in preventing fatigue-related accidents

What Should Be the Immediate Steps for Medical Treatment After a Truck Crash?

Following a serious injury in a truck accident, immediate medical attention is crucial. Even if injuries seem minor, it’s essential to undergo a thorough medical examination, as some serious injuries may not be immediately apparent. Early and appropriate medical treatment is vital for health and critical in any subsequent legal claims.

How Much Sleep Is Recommended for Long-Haul Drivers to Prevent Tiredness?

Long-haul drivers should have at least 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep before starting a journey. Continuous, quality sleep is essential for maintaining alertness and ensuring safety on the road.

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Kyle Newman Founder and Senior Trial Lawyer at Uptown Injury Law New York's Best Personal Injury Medical Malpractice and Accident Law firm New York's Top Trial Lawyers
WRITTEN AND REVIEWED BY
Kyle Newman Founder and Senior Trial Lawyer at Uptown Injury Law New York's Best Personal Injury Medical Malpractice and Accident Law firm New York's Top Trial Lawyers

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