Fatigued driving is a significant problem in this country. However, when it involves truck drivers, it can cause especially dangerous crashes. In most fatigue driving accident cases, a motorist gets behind the wheel without having gotten enough sleep. However, when you combine drowsiness and driving a large truck, the results can often be catastrophic.
For these reasons, if a fatigued truck driver has harmed you or a loved one, you deserve compensation and justice for the damages you had to endure. That is why in this blog post, we will delve into the topic of truck driver fatigue, explaining what it means, some reasons for why these types of accidents happen, and the legal recourse you can pursue following a fatigued truck driver accident to get the compensation you deserve. Our truck accident lawyers discuss how you can recover compensation after a fatigued driver accident below.
What Exactly is Truck Driver Fatigue?
Fatigue is often the result of mental or physical exertion that impairs performance. Usually, truck driver fatigue is due to a lack of proper sleep, strenuous work or non-work activities, long work hours, or a combination of all these factors. It is also the cause of many horrific accidents. In fact, in a Large Truck Crash Causation Study, results showed that 13 percent of commercial motor vehicle drivers were considered fatigued at the time of their accident.
Effects of Fatigue on Truck Drivers
Driver fatigue, also sometimes called drowsy driving, is far more dangerous than most people realize. Most anyone who drives can think of a time when they’ve yawned or felt sleepy behind the wheel. What they usually don’t appreciate, however, is that at those moments, their driving abilities were severely impaired.
In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a person who has been awake for 18 hours will experience impairment similar to a person with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.05 percent, and someone who has been up for 24 hours straight will suffer from impairment akin to a BAC of 0.10 percent.
In other words, fatigue, like alcohol consumption, will lead to driver impairments like:
- Slowed reaction times
- Decreased perception of speed and distance
- Poor judgment
- Lack of motor coordination
- Diminished situational awareness
The effects of fatigue are especially dangerous for truck drivers. Driving a truck is far more complicated and effort-intensive than driving a passenger vehicle. Keeping a truck in control and safe for others on the road requires significant skill and situational awareness. Even a minor impairment of those abilities can lead to a major catastrophe. For that reason, truckers are considered legally intoxicated if they have a BAC of 0.04 percent, just half of that of passenger car drivers.
Truckers routinely go without sufficient sleep, which means they frequently suffer from impairments like the ones above. Unfortunately, that impairment can, and does, lead to serious and fatal truck accidents.
Common Causes of Truck Driver Fatigue
Although numerous regulations are in place to ensure that truck drivers get rest while driving, truckers do not always follow them. As a result, dangerous crashes often occur because of truck driver fatigue.
Some of the common causes of that fatigue include:
Working Long Hours
Federal regulations limit truck drivers to a maximum of 11 hours of driving when that period occurs after taking ten consecutive hours off. Drivers must also take a break lasting at least 30 minutes after 8 consecutive hours of driving. In addition, they must also stop driving once they have driven for 14 hours, and they must not drive more than 60 hours in one week or more than 70 hours in eight days.
Those regulations, however, still leave drivers with long days and weeks of work. 11 hours of driving is a lot, and so is a 60-hour workweek, especially considering the degree of skill and attention drivers need to exercise to stay safe on the road. It’s no wonder they frequently suffer from extreme fatigue.
In addition, not all truck drivers operate in interstate commerce, meaning they do not have to abide by the federal regulations linked above. Instead, they must only abide by state regulations on truck driving within a state’s borders, which are often more relaxed than federal standards and make it even more likely that a tired trucker will get behind the wheel.
Irregular Schedules and Tight Deadlines
Truck drivers do not always have regular schedules, either. They drive to meet sometimes tight, even unrealistic, deadlines, and that frequently means the times of day they work varies widely. They also often take to the road late at night or early in the morning, when traffic is lightest and they can make the best time, but also when their bodies are conditioned to be sleeping.
As a result of these inconsistent work hours, truckers’ do not get regular sleep at the same time every day. Even when truck drivers are supposed to take a break, they frequently fail to get quality sleep, or (in some cases) any sleep at all. Irregular, low-quality sleep causes severe sleep deficits and dangerous fatigue that can lead to truck accidents.
It is not uncommon for truck drivers to use legal and illegal stimulants to help them stay awake and alert while driving, and to use legal and illegal sleep aids to help them get to sleep during their breaks from driving.
Unfortunately, using these substances can often impair, rather than improve, driving capabilities. Stimulants, for example, do not make a trucker “less tired” but rather simply mask the symptoms of extreme fatigue for a little while. When their effects wear off, a trucker experiences a dangerous return of drowsiness. Still, almost 30 percent of all truck drivers have admitted to using stimulants, and particularly illegal amphetamines, to stay alert on the job, even though these drugs can often cause impairment.
Similarly, using licit and illicit substances to get to sleep can lead to low-quality sleep, and can have hangover effects that impair driving abilities when truckers wake up. Some widely used sleep aids, for example, must only be taken when a person will get eight straight hours of sleep, which isn’t always an option for truck drivers. The result: tired truckers are made even more so by the medications and substances they use to help them rest. This is where you could even run into an instance of a truck driver being a drunk driver, due to some using alcohol to encourage sleep.
Age and Health Characteristics
As a group, long-haul truck drivers are significantly older than the rest of the U.S. working population. According to the American Trucking Associations (ATA), the median age of a trucker is 46 years old (compared to 42 years for all U.S. workers), and in some private trucking fleets, the median age is as high as 57 years. As we age, we tend to feel the effects of fatigue more profoundly, which means truckers are more vulnerable to fatigue than others.
On a related note, according to the CDC, truckers as a group are in significantly worse health than the average American. More than two-thirds of them (69 percent) are obese, and they’re twice as likely as the general population to have diabetes. More than half of them smoke, and roughly a quarter have high cholesterol and do not get sufficient exercise. These health characteristics, too, tend to make truckers more likely to become dangerously fatigued behind the wheel.
Liability For an Accident Caused by Truck Driver Fatigue
A truck driver owes a duty of care to the public to not engage in unreasonably dangerous behavior behind the wheel of a truck. Driving a big rig while excessively fatigued violates that basic duty.
If a fatigued truck driver causes a traffic accident that harms people, property, or both, numerous parties may face legal liability to the victims.
Those may include:
- The truck driver who made the dangerous decision to drive while fatigued
- The trucking company that allowed the truck driver to drive while fatigued, or that imposed unreasonable deadlines or driving requirements that made the trucker’s fatigue inevitable.
- Any party who ignored evidence that the truck driver did not comply with hours-of-service regulations aimed at keeping tired drivers off the road, as well as anyone who aided and abetted that violation.
- Any other party whose unreasonably dangerous actions contributed to the cause of a fatigued trucking accident.
It is not always easy to determine who owes damages for a fatigued truck driver accident. That is why, if you have been injured in a trucking accident, you should reach out to an experienced truck accident attorney as soon as possible. A skilled lawyer can investigate what happened, figure out who was at fault for the incident, and ensure they hold all the liable parties accountable for the losses and injuries you sustained.
Potential Damages for a Fatigued Truck Driver Accident
Victims of a truck crash caused by a fatigued truck driver may have the right to receive the following types of compensation from the at-fault parties.
Economic damages, consisting of financial losses borne by the victim as a direct result of a truck accident and the injuries it caused, such as:
- Past, current, and future medical expenses for hospital stays, emergency room visits, doctor visits, surgeries, prescription medications, medical assistive devices, and other medical needs.
- Lost wages from missing work due to an injury
- Lost earning capacity when an injury impairs the ability to work in the future
- In-home nursing care and other assistance
- Personal property repairs
- Rehabilitative services such as physical and occupational therapy
- Replacement services such as child care services or cleaning services
- Other out-of-pocket expenses
Non-economic damages, consisting of non-financial difficulties and challenges caused by the truck accident and the injuries the victim sustained, such as:
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Loss of a limb
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of consortium
A lawyer for a truck accident victim may secure punitive damages on a victim’s behalf if particularly extreme or reckless conduct causes an accident. Extreme fatigue can qualify in light of the heightened awareness that exists throughout the trucking industry of the dangers of drowsy driving and the extensive regulations that seek to curb its effects.
Experienced truck accident lawyers work closely with their clients to determine the full range of damages that a fatigued trucker caused them.
Get the Legal Help You Need—Reach out to an Experienced Truck Accident Attorney Today
It isn’t always obvious to accident victims that a trucker’s fatigue caused a truck accident. An experienced truck accident attorney, however, knows where to look for evidence of the trucker’s fatigue, how to obtain and preserve that evidence, how to interpret it, and how to present it to a court to prove the role that fatigue played in a crash.
That is why you must contact an experienced truck accident attorney as soon as possible after suffering harm in a truck accident.
A lawyer can get to work on:
- Going over your case, evaluating your legal claim, and helping you figure out which legal options you should pursue
- Answering all the questions and concerns, you have following the trucking accident
- Investigating the trucking accident, determining if it was due to fatigued driving, and gathering the evidence needed to show fault and damages
- Handling all the discussions and negotiations with the other side, including the insurance company, and going after a fair settlement offer
- Ensuring that documents and legal motions are filed before any applicable deadline expires
- Taking your case to trial, if the other side is unwilling to negotiate and fighting relentlessly for the maximum damages you need
- Collecting any money due to you through a settlement, judgment, or jury verdict
If you or a loved one was harmed in a trucking accident because of a fatigued truck driver, do not wait to seek the legal help you need. You may have limited time to take legal action to preserve your rights to compensation.
For a free consultation about your rights and options after suffering harm in a truck accident, contact an experienced personal injury accident lawyer today.