There’s no question that long-haul truck drivers have a hard job. These professionals work up to 70 hours a week, often driving through the night. The job is both physically and mentally draining, so it’s no surprise that many drivers suffer from fatigue. And, unfortunately, driving while fatigued is extremely dangerous.
Fatigue can affect a driver physically and mentally and make it difficult for them to stay alert on the road. When a driver gets behind the wheel without enough sleep, they increase the risk of serious injury to both themselves and other drivers on the road. If you have been injured in a truck accident involving a fatigued driver, you may be eligible for compensation.
The Dangers of Truck Driver Fatigue
You’ve probably that drowsy driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving. And it’s true. According to the Sleep Foundation, many symptoms of exhaustion and fatigue mimic those of intoxication. After 18 consecutive hours awake, you’re likely to drive similarly to the way you would with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.05. At 24 hours awake, it’s more like driving with a BAC of 0.10. Keep in mind, the legal BAC is 0.08 for passenger car drivers and just 0.04 for truck drivers.
So just how does lack of sleep affect a person’s ability to drive? Here are just a few ways fatigue interferes with driving:
- Decreased ability to focus: Truck drivers need to focus on the road and other drivers. When they fail to get enough sleep they may not notice that they are drifting into another lane or see another driver coming up from behind them. During the night, the combination of fatigue and bright headlights can be deadly.
- Slower reaction time: Think of the last time you didn’t get enough sleep; how much extra energy did it take for you to complete simple tasks? Driving drowsy requires more energy not only to recognize danger but also to respond to it.
- Reduced ability to make good decisions: Driving a large truck is a big responsibility. It requires the driver to take in their surroundings and make informed decisions about how they should react. When a driver is too tired, they may not process information properly and consequently make poor decisions that can lead to an accident.
A Closer Look at Truck Driver Fatigue
Just how prevalent is truck driver fatigue? According to numbers from the Large Truck Crash Causation Study, driver fatigue is among the top causes of large truck accidents. The study looked at 963 crashes. The results showed that at the time of the crash, 13 percent of drivers were fatigued. Another study showed that alertness is typically tied to the time of day. Regardless of a driver’s level of sleep deprivation, fatigue-related accidents happen more often during nighttime hours.
Because of the dangers of driver fatigue, there has been quite a bit of research on the subject. Here are a few takeaways:
- Medication makes the problem worse: Truck drivers use over-the-counter and prescription medications for a variety of reasons. Cold medication is particularly dangerous when combined with lack of sleep. According to the Large Truck Crash Causation Study, 17 percent of drivers were on some type of medication at the time of the crash.
- Most truck drivers are guilty of drowsy driving: Think drowsy driving is a problem for just a small percentage of truck drivers? Think again. A 2005 study revealed that 75 percent of drivers admitted to making at least one error because of fatigue.
- Unhealthy habits may contribute to driver fatigue: The FMSCA reports that long work hours, sleep problems, and an “unhealthy lifestyle” were among the top reasons for drivers falling asleep on the road.
Federal Laws Aimed at Eliminating These Accidents
For most of us, we know it’s not a good idea to get behind the wheel when we are tired. Studies consistently show that drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as drunk driving. Yet, drivers get on the road every day without enough sleep. They use excuses like, “I had no other choice,” or “I thought I could make it home.”
For truck drivers, it certainly can feel to them like there is no other choice. Their job depends on working long hours and getting their cargo to its destination within a certain amount of time. These drivers often drive on little sleep because they feel their job depends on it. Understanding the demands on drivers, the FMSCA has enacted laws hoping to reduce the number of drowsy truck drivers on the road. Specifically, the law provides rules governing:
- The maximum number of hours a driver may work per week: Federal law mandates that truck drivers stay within a maximum number of hours of work in a given week. According to the law, a driver can work no more than 60 hours in a seven-day period or 70 hours in an eight-day period. It is up to the driver’s employer to determine which rule to use based on the motor carrier’s needs.
- The total number of hours a driver may work per day: A truck driver is not permitted to drive more than 11 hours in a 14 hour period.
- The consecutive hours a driver may drive at a stretch: A truck driver is not allowed to drive for more than 11 hours at one time.
- Mandatory time off: There must be at least 10 hours between the time when a driver ends one shift and begins another. Additionally, a driver must take a minimum of 34 consecutive hours off before beginning a new work week.
Staying Safe on the Road
As a passenger vehicle driver, driving next to a large truck can be scary. It’s easy to feel helpless next to a vehicle that outweighs your car 30 to 1. And while you have no control over whether a truck driver has gotten enough sleep, there are things that you can do to recognize the dangers a truck might pose and prevent an accident. These include:
- Staying alert: Every time you are on the road, one of the most important things you can do is to be alert. When another driver is fatigued, you may be able to recognize the signs. Be on the lookout for trucks drifting in and out of their lane, trucks that are driving too closely to the barrier or shoulder, or a truck suddenly jerking or braking.
- Leaving plenty of room: Any time you are driving near a large truck, it is never a good idea to drive directly next to the truck. In addition to their large blind spots, they also take longer to react. When it comes to driver fatigue, you won’t be able to anticipate their actions. This may force you to react if they unexpectedly start to enter your lane. Leaving plenty of space between you and the truck will help keep you out of danger.
- Avoiding driving late at night: You can’t always control when you have to drive, but if you can avoid it, stay off the highway at night. Not only are you more likely to be fatigued yourself, but the data shows that more truck accidents related to driver fatigue happen after midnight.
- Reporting any dangerous behavior: As drivers, we rely on each other to stay safe on the roads. If you see a truck driving erratically, say something. Call 911 if you think that the truck driver is not in control of their vehicle. Your quick actions could save another driver’s life.
Holding Those at Fault Responsible
Beyond the severity of injuries that usually result from a truck accident, there’s another factor that sets large truck accidents apart from other vehicle accidents—liability. In an accident between two cars, injury claims are usually made between the drivers’ insurance policies. But when it comes to truck accidents, additional parties may come into play. Responsible parties may include:
- The truck driver: The ultimate responsibility for a fatigue-related accident lies with the truck driver. The driver is the one who chose to get behind the wheel when they were drowsy. The driver’s insurance will be the first party that comes into play in a personal injury suit.
- The driver’s employer: Employers have a responsibility not only to set expectations about driving limits and the required reporting documentation, but also to make sure that their drivers follow the rules. There’s a common misconception that an employer can only be liable if their actions or demands led the driver to violate the maximum working hours. However, the employer does not have to cause the violation or even be aware of it to be held responsible. If an employer does not have a system in place to monitor the driver’s compliance with federal hours of service regulations, they may bear some responsibility.
How a Personal Injury Attorney Can Help
Truck accidents can be a scary experience. Handling the aftermath is not something you want to do alone. A personal injury attorney can help you collect relevant evidence and communicate with the relevant insurance companies. If you are unable to settle your claim, a personal injury attorney can help you file a personal injury lawsuit with the appropriate court. Although the exact amount you will be able to recover will depend on the specific circumstances of your case, common damages in a personal injury claim include:
- Medical costs: Truck accidents can lead to significant injuries. The costs associated with your treatment can add up quickly. A personal injury claim can help you cover bills associated with your care including doctor visits, hospital stays, physical therapy, surgeries, and medication.
- Lost wages: Serious injuries can cause you to miss time at work. When this happens, you may find it difficult to keep up with your bills. You shouldn’t have to worry about your electric bill when you are trying to recover from your injuries. Lost wages generally include any time missed as a direct result of your injuries. If your injuries interfere with your ability to return to work, you may have a case for future lost wages.
- Home modification costs: When an injury leaves you disabled, you may find it difficult to move around your own home. Wheelchair ramps, wider doorways, and handrails can make things easier.
- Pain and suffering: Personal injury claims are meant to make you whole. So, while reimbursement for medical bills may help you get the treatment you need, often the physical and emotional pain of the accident extends months beyond the time it takes for the injury to heal. Pain and suffering compensation may cover physical pain as well as mental distress including depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
- Loss of Companionship: Human beings have expectations when it comes to relationships. We rely on our partners to provide physical, emotional, and mental support. An accident can take away someone’s ability to be a part of a relationship and provide companionship in the ways they could before the accident. A loss of companionship claim is meant to compensate the victim’s family for this loss.
- Wrongful death: Sadly, truck accidents all too often result in fatalities. In just one recent year, 4,102 people died in large truck accidents. After an accident, the victim’s family has to cope with the loss of their loved one as well as any unpaid medical costs and lost wages. A wrongful death claim can help offset these costs and shift the financial responsibility from the victim’s family to the responsible party.
Truck drivers should never drive when they are too tired. But the truth is, many do. Getting behind the wheel when you are too tired to drive is negligence. If you or a loved one has been injured in a large truck accident, you deserve fair and just compensation for your injuries. A personal injury attorney can help you file a claim and pursue economic damages. If you have questions regarding a recent accident, a personal injury attorney can provide more information about your legal rights.
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Las Vegas, NV 89101