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How Does Driver Fatigue Contribute to Truck Accidents?

Truck Accidents Caused by Tired Drivers - An Overview

An 18-wheeler is a complex piece of machinery to operate, even when the driver is alert and in control of all of his faculties, so the significant risks of a truck driver falling asleep behind the wheel are obvious. Because truck drivers are under an enormous amount of pressure to deliver their loads on schedule, drivers are often under pressure to skip required breaks or continue driving without sleep, causing many to become dangerously tired.

This being said, the driver who decides not to find the nearest truck stop or motel to get rest when he or she is sleepy is still making a choice. While that decision may not be premeditated or malicious, it is still exceedingly irresponsible and negligent. As a result, if a truck driver causes an accident due to falling asleep, both he and his employer must be held accountable. This article will explain how these cases work, what an attorney can do to help you, and the types of compensation you may be able to recover from your accident.

Questions Answered On This Page:

  • How many accidents are caused by tired truck drivers?
  • How often do truck drivers fall asleep at the wheel?
  • Aren't truck drivers required by law to take breaks?
  • How do I prove an accident was caused by a tired trucker?

Tired Truck Drivers Are A Widespread and Dangerous Problem

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (the "FMCSA"), more than 5,000 people are killed and 150,000 more injured each year due to accidents involving 18-wheelers. Fatal accidents involving large trucks and multiple vehicles occur at twice the rate of multiple-vehicle accidents that only involve passenger cars. In fact, nearly 25 percent of fatalities among passenger vehicle occupants result from multi-vehicle collisions that involve a large commercial vehicle.

Though these statistics reflect all 18-wheeler accidents, fatigued truck drivers make up a big proportion of these accidents: fatigued truck drivers account for approximately 750 deaths and 20,000 injuries every year, according to the FMCSA. The rate at which truck drivers fall asleep at the wheel is alarming. In one study conducted by the Institute of Safety Management and Research at the University of Albany/State University of New York, 593 long-distance truck drivers were interviewed randomly at rest areas as well as roadside truck safety inspections. Incredibly, 47.1 percent of the drivers surveyed said they had fallen asleep behind the wheel at one point or another during their career, while another 25 percent said they had done so within the past year.

But aren't truck drivers required to take breaks? Federal law does impose strict guidelines on how long a commercial truck driver can remain behind the wheel. However, for several reasons, including pressure from their employees or the desire to get paid more by logging more miles, truckers routinely ignore these guidelines. When they do so, drivers run the substantial risk of falling asleep at the wheel and endangering not just themselves, but everyone else sharing the road with them.

Other Causes of Driver Fatigue

  • Drug and alcohol use. Alcohol and many types of drugs, even prescription drugs, act as depressants, causing the the user to become sleepy. Accidents caused by drivers operating their commercial vehicles while intoxicated are typically far more severe than typical passenger car accidents. When the driver of a 40-ton 18-wheeler causes an accident while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs, the damage and injuries involved can be staggering. If you were injured in an accident caused by a driver who was impaired by alcohol or drugs, then not only is that act considered a crime, it is also considered to be gross negligence. As a result, if the jury sides with you and rules the truck driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the accident, you could be awarded exemplary or punitive damages that would far exceed the amount awarded if the truck driver had not been impaired.
  • Sleep apnea. Sleep apnea can be particularly dangerous for truck drivers because it can lead to daytime drowsiness even when the operator has had adequate rest. The FMCSA details the dangers of truck drivers with sleep apnea operating their vehicles. Sleep apnea cannot only prove deadly for a sufferer, the lack of quality of sleep caused by the condition can make it exceedingly hard for a truck driver to remain alert during a long shift.

Proving the Truck Driver Caused Your Accident Due to Falling Asleep

In order to be able to win your case and secure equitable restitution for the injury you have sustained, you will have to be able to show the court hard evidence that the driver of the truck involved in your accident caused that accident after falling asleep behind the wheel of his rig.

In order to provide that proof, you will need the help of an attorney who is familiar with investigating trucking accidents and gathering evidence. For example, when a truck driver falls asleep at the wheel, his vehicle typically drifts over a median or a center line. Usually, there will be no braking marks, skid marks or other indicators that the driver tried to stop. If this is the case, that is a very good indication that the driver was asleep at the time of the accident.

Further, many modern trucks have in-cab video that records the entire time a driver is at the wheel, or a "black box" which can record data such as how long the truck has been in service, if the driver took any breaks, if the truck braked before impact, etc. When an accident occurs, the recorder freezes the moments before and after the accident.

How an attorney can help with your truck driver fatigue case.

If you or someone close to you has been injured in this type of accident, you will need the help of an attorney to have any reasonable chance of obtaining compensation for your pain and suffering, medical expenses, and other monetary losses that you have incurred due to your accident. Even though we know you need time to heal after this type of accident, it is also important that you call us as quickly as you are able to so that an investigation can be promptly launched. Key evidence can often "disappear" either because of time passing and witnesses disappearing or because the defendant will try to cover it up. Log books that show the hours that have been driven can be altered or destroyed, and other vital evidence can be altered. Please do not hesitate to call Grossman Law Offices at (855) 326-0000 so that we can listen to the specific circumstances surrounding your accident and let you know how we may be able to be of assistance to you or your loved one.

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