Fatigue results from mental or physical exertion that impairs performance. Truck driver fatigue results from lack of adequate sleep, strenuous activities, extended work hours, or a combination of other factors. One truck crash causation study revealed up to 13% of commercial truck drivers suffer driver fatigue at the time of their crash.
Unfortunately, the above contributing factors occur all too easily in truck drivers. Driving with too little sleep or rest is a leading concern among United States truckers. The CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) believes that drowsy drivers cause as many as 6,000 deaths annually. It also believes that commercial truck drivers are more likely to drive tired than other drivers.
Driver fatigue negatively affects many functions that truck drivers need to remain alert while on the road and perform well, including vision, coordination, judgment, and reaction time. As such, a fatigued driver can easily veer into oncoming highway traffic if he or she falls asleep on the wheel, causing a catastrophic head-on collision.
The truck driver may also forget to check his or her blind spot before switching lanes resulting in a side-swipe collision with another motorist. Drivers easily fail to pay attention while driving when fatigued, which is disastrous for other road users.
Driver fatigue and related sleep deprivation symptoms are similar to those you would observe in drivers under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Twenty four hours of sleep deprivation causes truckers to be as impaired as a driver with a BAC of 0.10%, which is over the legal limit for DUI (driving under the influence).
Federal Trucking Regulations about Hours of Service
FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) has established hours-of-sleep regulations for all interstate drivers of commercial motor vehicles. FMCSA aims to prevent traffic accidents due to fatigued truckers by limiting the time they can operate between rest breaks. Specifically, the laws enforce the following:
Drivers cannot operate commercial motor vehicles beyond 11 hours during a single work period
Truckers cannot drive past 14 hours since their shift started
Truckers must have ten consecutive off-duty hours before starting a new work shift
Truckers cannot drive for over 60 hours in one week or over 70 hours in eight days
Some states also have respective operation limits for truck drivers to reduce driver fatigue. These regulations aim to reduce trucking accidents. However, they are only effective if truckers and trucking companies enforce them.
Causes of Driver Fatigue
Unfortunately, for truckers and trucking companies, operating according to federal and state regulations to prevent driver fatigue is not always profitable, at least in the short term. Hence, violations occur regularly, often with devastating results.
Federal rules also have loopholes that truckers violate and shortcomings that prevent them from ensuring safety on the road.
It is possible for truckers to get tired and drowsy despite abiding by the laws. Driving for eleven hours is still a considerably extensive period to operate a commercial vehicle and results in fatigue. What’s more, 60 or 70 hours of driving in a week or eight days, respectively, is still a lot of time spent behind the wheel.
The reality of rule enforcement is such that truckers don’t always have to follow regular schedules. Such failure means that many drivers fail to establish a regular sleep pattern (circadian rhythm), which allows them to sleep during their rest periods. The fact that truckers must be off the road for a 10-hour rest period does not mean they rest or sleep during that time.
An irregular circadian rhythm causes drivers to seek substances like sleep aids to fall asleep (or stay alert) and prevent drowsiness while they are driving. Such substances can cause impaired driving, judgment, reflexes, and response time. Reuters reports that nearly 30% of global truckers use amphetamines to remain alert – although it does not lead to better driving.
Truckers feel pressured to drive by trucking companies or subcontractors irrespective of their fatigue levels. Hence, they tend to ignore the federal limits to meet set deadlines, which may not always consider potential delays in the route.
Companies pay most of their truckers by the mile instead of hourly, which gives the latter an incentive to break federal hours-of-service regulations.
Truckers that don’t operate interstate need not abide by the set federal guidelines. Instead, they follow state regulations, which could be laxer.
What to Do If You Suspect Driver fatigue is the Cause of a Truck Accident?
Driver fatigue can sometimes be a hidden cause of truck accidents. Many collisions and rollovers, for instance, could have driver fatigue as either a sole or contributing cause. These types of truck accidents can have slow reflexes, responses, and poor judgment as a cause.
It’s possible to see a truck speeding or weaving before an accident, which indicates fatigue. An out-of-control truck, such as driving on incoming traffic, means a driver is falling asleep on the wheel.
If you notice fatigue after being in an accident and stopping to exchange driver information, mention any signs you see to the responding law enforcement officer. It’s also advisable to talk to an experienced truck accident lawyer. The causes of a road accident involving commercial trucks are often complicated and need thorough investigation.
Follow the following steps after your accident:
Report the accident: Calling 911 will summon the police, medical professionals, and other relevant first responders to the scene. It will also provide you with a record of the accident and vital support. Try and write down the license number of the truck if the driver fails to exchange information.
Seek medical care: Never leave the scene of your accident unless when seeking immediate medical care. It ensures you get much-needed treatment and provides a record of your injuries for insurance purposes.
Notify your insurance company: After seeking medical care if you need it, notify your insurance company of the accident and any other circumstances surrounding it.
Talk to a truck accident attorney: Note that insurance companies always put their financial interests first over and above your wellbeing, so it’s prudent to seek the services of an attorney.
Who is Responsible if Driver Fatigue is the Cause of a Traffic Accident?
Several parties could be liable for a truck accident, including:
The truck driver
The manufacturer of the truck and the parts that contributed to the accident, such as faulty tires
The shipper of the cargo
The cargo loader
The federal, state, or any other jurisdiction in charge of maintaining road conditions
Hire Experienced Truck Accident Attorneys to Fight for Your Rights
A truck accident attorney looks at the facts of your case and advises you on the way forward. They then work with you to help you get the compensation you deserve for your damages and injuries following a trucking accident.
Your attorney will investigate the car accident to determine the at-fault party before launching a claim or lawsuit. His or her assistance also gives you peace of mind. Negotiations with the at-fault party’s insurer ensure that you receive a fair offer that covers your damages.
Contact the experienced truck accident attorney at The Joel Bieber Firm for a free initial consultation.