Truck Accidents Caused by Driver Fatigue
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the government agency that regulates the trucking industry, about 13 percent of all truck drivers involved in accidents report being tired at the time of the crash. Truck drivers are at particular risk of suffering driver fatigue from their work hours and other factors.
If a drowsy truck driver injured you in an accident, the truck driver or the trucking company could be liable for your injuries. Their insurance providers may compensate you for the expenses and effects of your injuries through the personal injury claims process.
What Is Truck Driver Fatigue, and What Causes It?
As explained by the FMCSA, truck driver fatigue refers to physical or mental exertion that impairs performance. It can result from a lack of sleep, extended work hours, strenuous work, or other factors, including:
The circadian rhythm is the body's sleep/wake cycle, often referred to as the “internal clock.” This cycle causes instinctive fatigue at certain times of the day, including late night and early morning hours. These hours also happen to be the hours that many truck drivers choose to drive, as there is less traffic. According to the FMCSA, being on the road for several hours increases this natural drowsiness.
Many long-haul truck drivers choose to save time and money by sleeping in the sleeper berth of their trucks. Truck drivers who sleep in sleeper berths face the biggest risk of having a safety-critical incident within the first hour of waking due to a condition known as sleep inertia. Sleep inertia causes temporary impairment of short-term memory, vigilance, cognitive functioning, and reaction time.
Hours of Service Violations
To combat the risks of truck driver fatigue to other roadway users, the FMCSA created Hours of Service rules to limit the amount of time any driver can be on-duty and operating their truck.
These rules include:
- An 11-hour driving limit after 10 consecutive hours off-duty.
- A 14-hour driving limit after 10 consecutive hours off-duty. On-duty time for drivers includes other activities besides driving, such as completing paperwork, performing a pre-trip inspection, and other work-related activities.
- A required 30-minute break from driving if the driver drove for at least 8 hours without stopping for at least 30 minutes.
- A 60-hour on-duty limit in a seven-day time frame, or 70 hours on-duty within an eight-day time frame. These hour counts restart after the driver takes at least 34 consecutive hours off-duty.
Despite these requirements, which also require drivers to log their hours electronically, some drivers violate the rules. Falsifying electronic logs to drive more hours can result in out-of-service status and a fine against the driver or trucking company for several thousand dollars.
Sleep apnea is a potentially dangerous sleep-related breathing disorder in which an individual temporarily stops breathing during sleep. This disorder can happen dozens of times in the night and leave the sufferer with symptoms such as fatigue, a dull headache, and difficulty paying attention when awake.
Truck drivers are at an increased risk of suffering from the condition, as the condition predominantly impacts older males with excess weight. Older males make up the largest demographic of truck drivers, and many struggle with weight because of the sedentary nature of their job.
FMCSA prohibits drivers from driving with untreated medical conditions such as sleep apnea that can potentially compromise others' safety. If a truck driver is diagnosed with sleep apnea, it does not necessarily mean they will be unsafe to drive. It means the driver must control the condition through medication and lifestyle changes, and the driver's doctor must certify that the medication renders the driver safe to drive.
Medication or Medical Issues
FMCSA regulations prohibit commercial truck drivers from operating trucks if they are too sick or fatigued to drive. As noted with sleep apnea, if individuals can control their health issues that cause fatigue or other driving risks, they can drive.
However, many truck accidents involving fatigued drivers do not result from medical conditions but rather the drivers' medications. Commercial truck drivers are subject to alcohol and drug screenings and a reduced impairment level: 04 blood alcohol content, which is half the .08 BAC impairment limit imposed on other drivers over 21 years old. Some drivers choose to risk their commercial driver's license by violating federal alcohol and drug use rules. Others experience fatigue from over-the-counter or prescription medications to treat other conditions. Antihistamines and cold medicine, for example, often cause fatigue.
What Are the Effects of Driver Fatigue?
Driver fatigue affects the driver's ability to safely drive as much as alcohol impairment.
As noted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), fatigued driving can cause drivers to:
- Nod off while driving or experiencing microsleeps, brief sleep episodes lasting less than 30 seconds.
- React slowly to changing road conditions, such as the actions of other drivers or the presence of pedestrians.
- Maintain a travel lane or a consistent speed with difficulty.
- Make poor driving decisions.
How to Obtain Compensation for Your Injuries
The personal injury claims process is the legal process to seek compensation for injuries and property damage caused by another person's negligence. Family members of an individual who died in an accident caused by truck driver fatigue can pursue a wrongful death claim. These processes involve first seeking compensation from the at-fault party's insurance provider. If the provider fails to compensate the claim, you can file a lawsuit in civil court.
The Type of Evidence Needed to Prove a Truck Driver Fatigue Accident Claim
Because FMCSA imposes safety regulations on truck drivers and requires the driver or the employment company to retain documentation of regulation compliance, gathering evidence to prove liability can require an extensive investigation.
Some documentation your attorney will review includes:
- Data from the truck's “black box,” also known as an electronic control module or an event data recorder. This device records the tractor-trailer during operation, documenting speed and brake usage.
- The driver's electronic log showing the hours they worked before the crash.
- Trucking company policies and procedures indicating the company's scheduling, work policies, and safeguards to prevent accidents caused by truck driver fatigue.
- The accident police report, with potential statements indicating the driver's fatigue before the crash.
- Eyewitness accounts of the accident. Others might report seeing the driver struggling to maintain their speed or lane, or even failing to brake before the collision occurred, indicating fatigue.
In addition to gathering evidence to show liability, your attorney will collect evidence to prove the severity of your injuries and resulting expenses.
This evidence includes:
- Photographs of visible injuries.
- Medical documentation, including records, doctors' statements on the nature of your injury prognosis, and medical bills.
- Testimony from family and friends about how the accident impacts your quality of life.
Proving Liability in a Truck Driver Fatigue Claim
The driver or trucking company is generally liable in truck driver fatigue accidents. Many truck drivers are also owner/operators or independent operators. Like trucking companies, truck drivers are responsible for maintaining records of their FMCSA compliance.
Trucking companies can be liable for accidents caused by truck driver fatigue through vicarious liability, where employers are responsible for actions committed by their employees during work hours. Additionally, trucking companies can be liable if their negligence contributed to the accident.
Trucking company negligence that results in accidents caused by truck driver fatigue includes:
- The trucking company encouraged drivers to falsify their electronic logs to continue driving and meet shipping deadlines.
- The company failed to ensure that the driver obtained regular health exams and completed drug and alcohol testing to maintain their commercial driver's license.
- The company failed to respond to previous complaints from other roadway users about the driver exhibiting unsafe behavior.
- The company failed to give sick drivers sufficient time off to recover or get treatment for medical conditions such as sleep apnea that can cause truck driver fatigue.
How Much Is the Average Truck Accident Claim Worth?
There is no such thing as an average truck accident. Every accident has unique details, including the severity of injuries, how the accident occurred, how the claim is resolved (settlement or litigation), and more. Individuals injured in truck accidents can seek compensation for the expenses and effects of their injury, such as medical expenses, wage loss, loss of future earning capacity, vehicle damage, physical pain and suffering, mental anguish, and loss of the enjoyment of life.
Can You Afford a Lawyer to Help With Your Claim?
People often hesitate to seek the assistance of an experienced truck accident lawyer to help them with their claim because they don't think they can afford the attorney's fees. Reputable truck accident lawyers work on a contingent-fee billing method.
This costs you nothing unless a lawyer recovers compensation for you. When that happens, you pay a percentage of the amount of compensation you receive. The contingent-fee agreement carefully documents this percentage at the start of the lawyer-client relationship.
Truck accidents caused by a fatigued driver can produce some of the most severe injuries an individual can suffer, leaving victims and their family members feeling isolated, stressed, and overwhelmed. Let an experienced truck accident legal team start to bring you peace of mind through a free case evaluation.