Driver Fatigue and Truck Crashes: Some Eye-Opening Facts

Feb 24, 2021 | Big Truck Accidents

Drunk driving remains the single greatest cause of fatal crashes on America’s road, accounting for nearly a third of all traffic deaths. But drivers who haven’t had enough sleep can be just as dangerous as intoxicated ones — particularly if the sleep-deprived driver happens to be behind the wheel of an 80,000-pound commercial truck.

Drowsy driving is a much more common phenomenon than most people realize. In one Harvard survey, 50 percent of the participants admitted to driving while fatigued.  In a Centers for Disease Control study of nearly 150,000 adults, four percent of respondents admitted to having fallen asleep while driving in the past 30 days. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that drowsy driving was a factor in at least 91,000 crashes, 50,000 injuries and 795 deaths in 2017. Many experts believe the actual number of deaths is much higher, since it’s not always possible to identify fatigue as a cause; because alcohol consumption frequently plays a part in dozing off while driving, many of those fatalities are categorized as drunk driving rather than fatigue-related incidents. 

Fatigue and Reaction Time

You don’t have to actually fall asleep to be a menace on the roads. Fatigue can result in behaviors remarkably similar to driving drunk, including slowed reaction time, impaired judgement, and decreased hand-eye coordination. Studies indicate that after 18 hours without sleep, a driver’s impairment is comparable to having a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .05%. After 20 hours, the drowsy driver’s reflexes are similar to those of someone with a .08% BAC — the legal limit in Colorado and every other state. After 24 hours, the impairment is on a par with a .1% BAC, the equivalent of six drinks consumed by a 220-pound man in one hour.

Even if you manage to get some sleep every night, not getting enough can be dangerous. Data compiled by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety suggests that sleeping less than seven hours a night is associated with a measurably higher risk of being involved in a crash. In general, the risk of driver fatigue is higher for the sleep-deprived, including those who have sleep disorders or work night shifts. But perhaps the group most at risk are drivers who often work longer than eight-hour days, operate heavy equipment at high speeds, and need their faculties to be in tip-top condition at all times: over-the-road truckers.

Fatigue and Truck Drivers

Truck drivers operate under a number of different arrangements with freight companies, but many long-haul truckers are paid by the mile — so there are pressures for them to be out on the road as much as possible. Federal regulations specify that truckers can drive no more than 11 hours per day and 60 hours in a week, but even those who scrupulously follow the rules can end up putting in many more hours on non-driving tasks, such as waiting to unload their trailer or maintaining the vehicle. The result is long hours, high stress, and the prospect of sleep deprivation.

Studies on crashes involving large trucks indicate that driver fatigue is a prominent factor in 13% of the cases, about one in seven. But as with the more general statistics, the role of fatigue may have been obscured in crashes where other factors, such as drugs or alcohol, were involved. In the Harvard study on drowsy driving, nearly half of the truck drivers surveyed acknowledged that they’d “drifted” off at some point while on the road. That’s a disturbing figure, and one that’s not likely to change until regulators find a way to reduce the long hours truckers put in and figure out a better way to compensate them for their work.

What to Do After a Truck Accident

If you are in an accident involving a truck, you should take the same immediate steps you would take in any other accident situation:

  • Stay calm. If your vehicle is drivable, move it out of harm’s way.
  • If anyone appears to be hurt, do NOT move them. Summon medical help immediately. Even if you don’t think you’re hurt, you may have suffered more serious injuries than you realize.
  • Exchange insurance information and file an accident report. Cooperate with police, but avoid random comments about who’s at fault.
  • If there are witnesses to the accident, get their phone numbers before they leave the scene.

If you have suffered injuries, you will need an experienced truck accident law firm that knows how to manage and litigate such cases. Liability issues in truck accidents can be much more complicated than in a typical car accident. Some truck accidents may involve carelessness by the driver and also on the part of the trucking company as well. There may be questions about the training the company conducts, its hiring procedures, or the way it maintains and services its equipment or its compliance with other regulations. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that the trucking company and their insurers will treat you fairly if you don’t have a strong advocate on your side. An experienced truck accident attorney will know how to analyze the circumstances of the accident and identify the issues that should be pursued in court if a lawsuit becomes necessary.

The Truck Accident Lawyers at Franklin D. Azar & Associates

If you or a loved one has been injured by an accident involving a tractor-trailer, semi-truck, or other commercial vehicles, FDAzar can help. We have experienced truck accident lawyers ready to review your case with you. And we have the dedication to our clients to ensure that your claim will be handled efficiently and aggressively so that you can get the recovery you deserve. Call us day or night at (800) 716-9032 or contact us here.