Truck Driver Fatigue

Helping Victims of Serious Truck Accidents Caused by Tired Truckers

One of the leading causes of truck accidents is driver fatigue. Truck drivers tend to work long, monotonous hours and prefer to drive late at night. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that fatigue and drowsiness can easily set in. While it is difficult to pinpoint exactly how many accidents are caused by fatigued driving, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that fatigue and drowsiness plays a role in 56,000 accidents each year, resulting in 40,000 injuries and over 1,500 fatalities. Even if those figures slightly exaggerate the number of truck accidents, it is still clear that driver fatigue presents a significant danger to other motorists on the road.

Understanding the Dangers of Drowsy Driving

According to a series of studies, driver drowsiness is a leading cause of accidents involving large trucks.

  • The NHTSA estimates that truck driver fatigue contributes to 40% of all heavy truck crashes.
  • The National Transportation Safety Board study found that fatigue was a prominent factor in 52% of 107 heavy truck crashes. In 18% of those crashes, the driver admitted to falling asleep at the wheel.
  • The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration estimates that the risk of a crash effectively doubles from the 8th to the 10th hour of driving and doubles again from the 10th to the 11th hours.
  • Per FMCSA, over 750 people die and over 20,000 are injured each year due to fatigued truck drivers.

Factors That Influence Truck Driver Fatigue

  • Time of Day - Truckers who drive at night are at a greater risk. Research has shown that fatigue-related accidents are increasingly likely to occur between the hours of 12am-6am. Many truckers prefer to drive at night since there are fewer cars, but the lack of sleep can result in fatigue-related accidents.
  • Hours Awake - Drivers who have been awake for 18 or more hours show significant impairment in cognitive ability. In fact, being awake for over 18 hours is akin to having a BAC level of 0.08%, which is beyond the legal limit for driving in the U.S. Essentially, a truck driver who is on the road after not having slept in at least 18 hours represents as big of a danger as a drunk driver.
  • Sleep Disorders - By some estimates, 80% of sleep disorders go undiagnosed. Untreated sleep disorders such as sleep apnea greatly increase the chances of being involved in a fatigue-related accident. In fact, truck drivers with sleep apnea are two times as likely to cause an accident.
  • Rotating Shift Schedules - Because of the nature of the industry, truck drivers generally do not have set schedules. Unfortunately, rotating schedules have been shown to increase fatigue because adequate rest is not always available in between shifts.

Common Causes of Truck Accidents

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How Fatigue Impacts Driving

Sleep deficiency has a number of adverse impacts on a driver's cognitive abilities, including:

  • Slowed reaction time and reflexes
  • Impaired balance
  • Increased distractibility
  • Impaired judgment (not as risk averse)
  • Impaired memory
  • Impaired creativity
  • Increased risk of automatic behavior
  • Increased risk of falling asleep

Proactive Measures to Prevent Drowsy Driving

Fatigued driving is such a problem that Caterpillar, the world's largest manufacturer of construction equipment, is starting to sell eye-and-face-tracking technology to prevent sleepy drivers from getting into accidents. When its product, Driver Safety Solution, senses that a driver has fallen asleep or is looking away from the road and not paying attention, it activates audio alarms and seat vibrations. The government tries to thwart drowsy driving by placing limits on how long a truck driver can drive a day (by law, a truck driver can drive up to 11 hours at a stretch or up to 77 hours in a seven day period). According to one survey by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, however, 47.1% of long haul drivers admit to falling asleep at the wheel on at least one occasion.

Federal Regulations Help Prevent Driver Fatigue

The FMCSA regulates the number of hours a truck driver can be behind the wheel. These are aimed at preventing tired drivers from being on the road. As of 2013, new hours-of-service regulations were put in place.

The hours-of-service-rules include these provisions:

  • The average work week for a truck driver may not exceed 70 hours.
  • Once a driver has reached the limit, he or she may not drive for 34 consecutive hours.
  • Truck drivers must take a 30-minute break within the first 8 hours of a shift.

Despite well-known dangers of fatigued drivers, the FMCSA has continued lobbying for rules that would stretch HOS regulations further, though they have been continually struck down by federal courts.

Under their proposed rules, truckers could drive 11 hours every day of their work week, take a weekend of 34 hours, and then continue driving for an exhausting 77 hours in a 7-day period.

How Electronic Logging Devices Can Prevent Truck Accidents

Current regulations require truck drivers to keep paper logs to record the number of hours they are on the road. Unfortunately, paper logs are extremely difficult for regulators to monitor and verify. In many ways, it is essentially nothing more than an honor system that trusts truck drivers and trucking companies to report their hours accurately. However, anonymous surveys have consistently shown drivers commonly submit falsified paper logs.

Federal regulators have known for years that paper logs are an ineffective way of enforcing hours-of-service regulations. With the growing problem of driver fatigue and the increase in the number of trucking accidents, new regulations have been introduced that would require trucking companies to install electronic logging devices in all of their commercial trucks. Once published, trucking companies will have two years to outfit their trucks.

Electronic logging devices (ELDs) are a way of recording the actual times that a truck is on the road without having to rely on the truck driver or trucking company to submit accurate driving logs. ELDs are connected to the truck’s engine control module. They automatically record the date, time, and location of the truck at each change of duty status and store that information along with identification numbers of the truck and the driver. They are also equipped with an alert system that warns the driver when they are approaching the hours-of-service limit.

Studies Show ELDs Prevent Truck Accidents

Some major U.S. freight carriers have been using ELDs for years. One company has used the devices since 1998 and reported a 22% decrease in preventable accidents from 2007-2014 as a result of ELDs and safety technology. Another study of companies that voluntary used ELDs showed a reduction of over 50% in the number of hours-of-service violations. The FMCSA estimates requiring ELDs will result in roughly 1,500 fewer truck accidents yearly.

Proving an Accident Was Caused by Driver Drowsiness

There are several factors that must be taken into consideration. For example, it is vital that your attorney takes the time to examine the driver's log to check whether or not the driver had been operating for a lawful amount of hours. Your attorney needs to ask questions pertaining to the driver's amount of sleep and rest prior to the accident occurring. Questions should also be asked regarding any substances used to help a driver stay alert.

Should your attorney determine that fatigue played a considerable role in the accident, the next step would involve looking into the driver's working conditions. For example, did the trucking company have guidelines that supported the driver getting adequate amounts of rest? If not, the trucking company could be potentially liable for the accident. In cases where drivers are paid per the mile or by the load, they may be financially driven to drive past their natural limits—leaving them on the road without the necessary amounts of rest. In these cases, the trucking company may be found to have encouraged drivers to work too long.

If a Tired Truck Driver Caused Your Accident, Call Arnold & Itkin

If you have been in an accident with a commercial truck, contact a truck accident lawyer. Determining fault in a truck accident is much more complex than it is for accidents that only involve passenger vehicles. A skilled attorney can conduct an investigation into the possible causes of the accident. For example, a review of the truck driver’s hours-of-service log may reveal that the driver had exceeded the legal limit of driving hours. In that case, the driver and/or trucking company could potentially be held liable. Turn to us for the best representation.

Our legal team at Arnold & Itkin has the knowledge and experience to handle truck accident cases all across the U.S. Contact our Houston truck accident attorneys for a free consultation. Call us today at (888) 493-1629.

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