Does Driver Fatigue Lead to Truck Accidents?

sleepy driver

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), about 100,000 car accidents and truck accidents involve drowsy driving every year. These crashes resulted in more than 1,550 fatalities and 71,000 personal injuries, all because a driver was tired. 

When a truck driver falls asleep behind the wheel, the result is 80,000 pounds of out-of-control metal and cargo barreling down the highway. The destruction it can cause is catastrophic, crushing anyone or anything in its path.

Federal Regulations for Truck Drivers

Truck driver fatigue is one reason for federal regulations mandated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) for commercial truck drivers, including the following:

Fourteen-hour on-duty limit. A driver cannot be on duty more than 14 consecutive hours after an off-duty period of at least 10 hours.

Eleven-hour driving limit. In the 14 hours after a 10-hour off-duty period, the driver can only drive a total of 11 hours.

Thirty-minute mandatory breaks. A driver cannot drive if eight or more hours have elapsed since their last off-duty period of at least 30 minutes. 

Sixty- to seventy-hour limit. A driver can drive no more than 60 hours in a seven-day period and 70 hours in an eight-day period. These cycles restart after at least 34 hours off duty.

These regulations provide drivers time for rest breaks, meals, and sleep. Unfortunately, not all drivers follow these rules, and not all trucking companies do, either. 

What Causes Truck Driver Fatigue?

Driving while tired can happen to anyone, but long-haul and over-the-road truck drivers are especially susceptible to fatigued driving.

Company expectations. Some companies that employ drivers reward drivers who make deliveries early. They may pressure drivers with unrealistic deadline expectations and unlawful practices. 

Driver malfeasance. Drivers generally get paid by the mile. Some drivers push FMCSA regulations to increase their paychecks, meanwhile missing critical rest and sleep breaks. Other drivers may try to make up for time spent in traffic gridlock by skipping rest periods. Whatever the reason, driver fatigue can easily set in. 

Lifestyle. Like other people, truck drivers may not always get the amount of sleep they need before setting out on a long haul. They simply become tired as the hours wear on. 

Road fatigue. Drivers who drive on stretches of endless highways may get into an almost trance-like state. Their eyes can become heavy, and they may quickly doze off. Truck drivers should always pull off the road whenever they feel the least bit sleepy. 

Illness. No one feels 100 percent alert and awake when they are ill. Even the common cold can make the body crave sleep. Truck drivers are not immune to illness and the fatigue that comes along with it. 

Medications. Over-the-counter and prescription medicines can sometimes cause drowsiness. Truck drivers need to be careful about the type of medications they take while on the job. 

Driving under the influence. Unfortunately, some truck drivers will get behind the wheel under the influence of drugs or alcohol. A study by showed that 50 percent of truck drivers worldwide admitted to alcohol use while driving, while 30 percent said they had used amphetamines. The same survey showed that American truck drivers had the highest frequency of positive alcohol tests among truckers worldwide. 

Schedules. Truck drivers are known to pick up or trade shifts with other drivers in addition to keeping their own schedules. Many drive through the night to reach their destinations on time. Erratic driving and sleep schedules contribute to driver fatigue. 

How Does Fatigue Affect Driving?

Experts say that fatigued driving can cause many of the same problems as driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Driving while tired also has the same effect on the brain: Driving after 24 or more hours without sleep is akin to driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.10. Most states consider 0.08 the legal limit for alcohol. 

Fatigued truck drivers often exhibit the following behaviors:

Inability to pay attention. A drowsy driver cannot keep abreast of traffic or road conditions around them. They may change lanes dangerously or not notice when traffic is slowing in front of them. They might also miss traffic lights or road signs. A heavy truck takes more time to stop and more room to maneuver, making an unaware truck driver a real danger. 

Reduced response time. A fatigued driver will also have slowed reflexes. They may not be able to react quickly or appropriately when a driver cuts in front of them or traffic slows because of congestion or construction. Every driver needs enough time to respond swiftly to changing situations, but truck drivers even more so owing to the truck’s sheer weight and size.

Bad decisions. Driving requires mental skill as much as physical ability. Sometimes drivers need to make quick decisions, such as avoiding accidents or erratic drivers. Other times, decisions come with the everyday journey, such as when to change lanes or start slowing for a traffic light. These decisions cannot be made easily or quickly by fatigued drivers. 

Impaired vision. A tired driver who blinks to stay awake or whose eyelids keep falling cannot see the road ahead or around them. They may veer into the next lane or off the side of the road. They will most likely not use their mirrors to check the blind spot, nor will they be able to judge the distance between them and other cars. 

Inability to maintain the speed limit. A fatigued driver will often drive above or below the speed limit. They are most likely not aware of speed changes, and their sleepy state may make them unaware of what speed they are driving. 

Weaving. A tired driver will often straddle lanes, weave in and out of lanes, drive close to the shoulder, or even hit the rumble strip on a highway. Like a drunk driver, a fatigued driver will not realize they are practicing this unsafe behavior. 

What Are Warning Signs of Drowsy Driving?

Drivers who are fatigued and should not be driving may exhibit the following behaviors:

  • Yawn constantly
  • Blink frequently 
  • Try to keep their head upright
  • Nod off then wake suddenly
  • Be irritable
  • Not remember the last miles they drove
  • Miss road signs or traffic lights
  • Tailgate
  • Drift and weave
  • Miss exits and turns
  • Drive onto the shoulder or median
  • Have trouble keeping their eyes open

A driver who experiences any of these signs should immediately pull into a safe location for a rest, especially truckers. Passengers should take over driving if they notice the driver having a hard time staying awake. 

What Should I Do if a Tired Trucker Causes My Accident?

  • Call 911 if able. You will need to make a police report and be checked by emergency medical technicians. 
  • Seek medical attention. If you are lucky enough to survive an accident with a truck with no injuries or minor injuries, accept medical treatment at the scene regardless. Medics are trained to spot signs of injury that you may not know you have. 
  • New symptoms may emerge hours, days, or weeks after the accident, as some conditions take a while to present with symptoms. Always visit the doctor when this occurs. 
  • Take pictures and videos of the accident scene. Capture as much of the scene as possible, including the position of vehicles, strewn parts, damages, and road and weather conditions. 
  • Get witness statements. Ask bystanders if you can record their statements. If not, write them down and always get their name and contact information. 
  • Do not apologize or admit guilt. It is essential to cooperate with the police and provide truthful information. Do not overexplain. Never apologize or accept fault or responsibility. Anything said can be held against you. 
  • Do not talk with the trucker’s insurance company. Insurers may call to get follow-up information, but do not speak with them. They are trying to get you to speak and admit fault for the accident. Refer them to your lawyer. 
  • Do not sign anything or accept an insurance offer. An insurance company will generally offer you a quick settlement amount. They do this to prey upon your fears of medical bills and potential lost wages. Do not accept their offer. Consult with a lawyer immediately who can work to get you fair and just compensation. 
  • Hire a lawyer. A lawyer with skill and knowledge in personal injury and truck accidents is the best way to seek compensation for current and future damages. 

Baltimore Truck Accident Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Advocate for Clients after Their Accidents

Truck accidents can cause devastating physical and financial problems for drivers and passengers. The Baltimore truck accident lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton have helped hundreds of clients get the compensation for which they are entitled after a truck accident. We are ready to get to work for you as well. Call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

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