Accidents With Fatigued and Sleeping Truck Drivers
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Driver fatigue has been noted as a problem within the trucking industry for years. For long-haul drivers, being on the roads for hours at a time is just the nature of the job. But there are rules in place to prevent drowsy truck drivers from causing accidents that hurt or kill others. When those rules are broken, accident victims have the right to hold the at-fault party(s) accountable for their recklessness.
Truck drivers are subject to more rules and regulations than other drivers on the roads. That’s because they operate massive vehicles with the potential to cause severe injuries and death. Truck accident victims are often saddled with expensive medical bills and an uncertain prognosis after a crash — all things they never should have had to face if the trucker had acted more responsibly.
Were you or a loved one injured by a fatigued truck driver? These cases can be complicated to prove. Get the Atlanta truck accident lawyers at The Champion Firm, P.C., by your side. We can investigate your case and fight for you to get you the maximum compensation you’re owed.
Call or contact us today to arrange a free, no-obligation consultation.
Drowsy Truck Driver Statistics
Driving while fatigued is considered as dangerous as drunk driving. The exact number of vehicle crashes caused by fatigued drivers is unclear. While there are scientific measures that can prove a driver was drunk at the time of an accident, it can be difficult to establish with certainty that someone was driving while fatigued unless they admit it outright. However, experts estimate drowsy drivers cause at least 100,000 accidents per year.
A study from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) found that truck driver fatigue was a factor in 18,000 truck accidents in a recent year. A second study of crashes in which the truck driver was killed concluded that 31 percent of the crashes were caused by fatigued drivers.
Other statistics show that:
- Three out of every four commercial motor vehicle drivers report having made at least one driving error due to drowsiness.
- Truck accidents caused by fatigue are more likely to happen late at night or very early in the morning due to humans’ natural sleep-wake cycles, which cause varying patterns of alertness throughout the day.
- One study found that truck accidents were more likely in the first hour after waking, possibly due to “sleep inertia” — cognitive and motor impairments that are apparent in drivers after awakening, especially those that rest in the sleeper berths of their vehicles.
- The majority of crashes involving large commercial trucks occur while the trucks are being driven long distances. This is likely due to drivers being lulled on monotonous stretches of road for long periods of time.
Why Are Truckers Driving While Fatigued?
Truck drivers drive for long periods of time every day, often on high-speed interstates. The monotony of the task can induce sleepiness even in a well-rested driver. Unfortunately, most truck drivers are not very well-rested. They face tight deadlines and long working hours. If they pull over to take a nap, they are sometimes penalized for not delivering their cargo on time.
Although there are strict regulations about how long truckers can drive and mandatory rest periods, these rules may be broken due to the pressure that drivers get from their employers.
In addition, many drivers are paid by the mile, not the hour, so in order to make a living wage they try to squeeze in as many miles per day as they can.
An often-overlooked cause of sleepy truck drivers is sleep apnea. The average sleep apnea sufferer is a middle-aged or older man who is obese. Unfortunately, the majority of truck drivers today fit into this high-risk group. The standard treatment for sleep apnea, a CPAP machine, is difficult for truck drivers to use since they often have to sleep in their trucks and CPAPs are not easily transported or operated inside a sleeper berth in a truck.
How to Prevent Drowsy Driving
The FMCSA has advice for truckers on how to prevent the likelihood of a crash caused by fatigued driving:
- Get enough sleep before driving: Obey the federal hours-of-service regulations. Use the rest period for sleeping, not for running errands or taking on projects.
- Eat right: Skipping meals or eating inconsistently can cause fluctuations in blood sugar, which can lead to sleepiness and dizziness. In addition, sleeping after eating a large meal is associated with less quality sleep.
- Take a power nap: The ideal amount of time for a nap is 45 minutes, but even 10 minutes can be restorative. Don’t start driving for 15 minutes so that the sleep inertia wears off.
- Know your meds: Truck drivers should not drive until they know how any prescription or over-the-counter medications affect them.
- Recognize the signs of sleepiness: Yawning, head bobs, and blurry vision can be signs it’s time to pull over.
- Don’t fall back on “tricks” to stay alert: Caffeinated drinks, coffee, turning up the radio, or shaking your head can help maintain alertness temporarily, but cannot replace the value of sleep.
The same tips apply to regular drivers as well. If you are sleepy behind the wheel, stop immediately to avoid causing a drowsy driving accident.
Why Are Tired Truckers Dangerous?
Driving while fatigued impairs alertness, judgment, and reaction time. Since large trucks cannot stop, turn, or accelerate suddenly, it’s important that truck drivers be fully aware of their surroundings at all times so they can react as quickly as possible to emergency situations.
A large, fully-loaded truck moving at 65 miles per hour can take ten seconds to come to a full stop, covering over 500 feet in the process. If a driver is not fully alert and aware, they may not realize they need to start braking or take some other action before it is too late to prevent a serious accident.
In addition, many drowsy drivers experience multiple episodes of “microsleep” where they briefly become unconscious over and over again, while not being aware this is happening. These moments of microsleep can easily lead to serious accidents.
Proving Driver Fatigue in an Accident
It can be difficult to prove that fatigued driving caused a truck accident. However, truck drivers are required to keep a record of their driving hours and miles. Many trucking companies have outfitted their trucks with GPS and electronic logging systems to automatically track miles and driving times. If a truck driver blatantly violates federal rules about rest periods and maximum driving times, the electronic evidence can show that the driver was being negligent and driving while fatigued.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) have hours of service regulations that limit how much drivers can drive in any given time period. There are numerous different rules and exceptions that apply to driver transporting property or passengers. The main rules that apply to drivers of property-carrying vehicles impose the following requirements:
- Drive for a maximum of 11 hours during a period of 14 hours on duty
- Be on duty (including loading, unloading, truck maintenance, and driving) for a maximum of 14 consecutive hours
- Mandatory rest break of least 30 minutes every 8 hours of driving
- Take a 10-hour break in between driving shifts
- Work for a maximum of 70 hours in an 8-day period (or 60 hours in a 7-day period)
- There is a mandatory 34-hour rest period to restart a driver’s 7-day or 8-day period of driving time
In addition to relying on a driver’s logs to establish an hours of service violation, a lawyer can rely on other evidence to indicate that a driver may have been fatigued. Examples include:
- Black box data: Commercial trucks are equipped with computers that record trip information. Although a computer cannot detect whether a driver was asleep, it can identify whether he/she hit the brakes to prevent a collision. If there was no sign of braking, that can indicate that a driver may have been asleep.
- Witnesses: Other people, such as co-workers, may have knowledge about the truck driver driving beyond the permitted hours of service. A motorist may have seen the truck driver nodding off in the moments before the wreck or driving erratically. An expert witness in fatigued driving may be able to evaluate the facts of the wreck and give an opinion on whether the driver was fatigued.
- Trip data: Drivers must keep receipts and records of stops along the road. Timestamps on these receipts may be evidence of hours-of-service violations, even if logbooks are falsified.
How Can The Champion Firm Help Me?
If you or a loved one was injured by a fatigued truck driver in Atlanta, you may be entitled to compensation to pay for your medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more. It’s important to consult an experienced Georgia truck accident attorney who can argue your case and provide convincing evidence that the truck driver was being negligent by driving drowsy.
The skilled personal injury lawyers at The Champion Firm, P.C., can provide the guidance you need. We’ll stand up for you and build a compelling case that shows why you deserve maximum compensation for your injuries.
Our law firm handles every case by providing:
- Personal attention
- Open lines of communication
- Consultations where you need them – at home, in the hospital, or in our office
- Professional representation that seeks the best possible outcome for your claim
If you or a loved one has been involved in a truck accident in Atlanta, don’t hesitate or delay.
Call The Champion Firm, P.C., for a free consultation our use our online contact form.