Truck Driver Fatigue

May 22, 2024 | Jarrett Blakeley
Truck Driver Fatigue

Being involved in a truck accident is scary enough. However, being involved in an accident with a fatigued truck driver is even scarier because these drivers may lack the capabilities to make quick decisions and last-second maneuvers that avoid a collision or, at the very least, make it less catastrophic for those involved. Unfortunately, fatigued driving is a widespread problem among commercial truck drivers, as these drivers often have demanding work schedules and face pressures to meet deadlines.

However, prioritizing your profits or job at the expense of your physical and mental state is never a valid excuse, especially when your own safety and the safety of others are at risk. If you or someone you love has been in a truck crash and you believe the driver was fatigued, you might need legal counsel before you proceed with your claim. A truck accident lawyer can prove truck driver fatigue to maximize your compensation.

The Fatigue Epidemic Among Truck Drivers: What’s the Reason?

Truck Driver Fatigue

Fatigue is not just a matter of personal inconvenience. It can have severe consequences for both the truck driver and others on the road. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) estimates that fatigue is a factor in approximately 13 percent of truck accidents, which is likely underestimated. Furthermore, studies have shown that fatigued driving can impair a driver’s cognitive abilities and reaction time, potentially leading to more serious accidents. But why are so many truck drivers fatigued? Well, several factors contribute to fatigue among truckers:

Long Hours on the Road

One of the most apparent reasons for truck driver fatigue is the long, often grueling hours spent behind the wheel. Regulations exist to manage driving hours, including the FMCSA’s Hours of Service (HOS) rules, but enforcing those rules can be challenging. Some drivers, working under pressure to meet deadlines, may not adhere strictly to HOS rules. The relentless push to cover more ground can lead to extended periods of driving without sufficient rest, compromising a driver’s alertness and reaction time. As a result, the risk of accidents and injuries significantly increases.

Irregular Sleep Patterns

Truck drivers’ work schedules often include odd or inconsistent hours, which can disrupt their sleep patterns. These irregularities make it challenging to get adequate rest and contribute to feelings of fatigue while driving. In some cases, truck drivers may also struggle with undiagnosed sleep disorders,

Strenuous Work Schedules

Closely related to long driving hours are the demanding schedules set by employers or dictated by the freight market. These schedules often require driving through the night or during hours when the body naturally craves sleep. The disruption of the circadian rhythm, our internal clock that dictates sleep patterns, plays a significant role in the development of fatigue, making it difficult for drivers to stay awake and alert.

Lack of Proper Rest Areas

Truck drivers often have limited access to proper rest areas, making it challenging to take necessary breaks and rest during long journeys. This lack of appropriate places to stop and rest can force truck drivers to continue driving without adequate breaks, resulting in fatigue and increased risk of accidents.

The Monotony of Driving

The very nature of long-haul trucking involves hours of monotonous driving across highways, with little variation in the landscape or the task at hand. This monotony can lead to a state psychologists call “highway hypnosis,” where drivers become so accustomed to the repetitive nature of driving that their attention wanes, leading to fatigue and, in worse cases, microsleeps.

Unhealthy Lifestyles

The trucking lifestyle does not readily lend itself to health-promoting practices. Access to healthy food options is limited, and irregular schedules can disrupt regular exercise routines. Furthermore, the sedentary nature of the job contributes to various health issues, such as obesity and heart disease, which can exacerbate feelings of tiredness and lethargy.

Substance Abuse

To combat fatigue, some drivers turn to stimulants, from excessive amounts of caffeine to stronger substances. While these may temporarily boost alertness, they often lead to a crash in energy levels later on. Dependence on such substances can lead to a cycle of highs and lows, ultimately increasing fatigue rather than decreasing it. Furthermore, substance abuse can have serious consequences on a driver’s health and safety, as well as the well-being of others on the road.

Mental Health

The isolation and stress of long-haul trucking can also take a toll on drivers’ mental health. The lack of social interaction and support, combined with the pressure to meet tight delivery deadlines, can lead to feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and depression. These mental health issues can further contribute to driver fatigue and affect overall well-being.

What Happens When Tired Truckers Continue Driving Past Fatigue?

Sure, truck drivers should never drive to the point when they are tired, sleepy, or drowsy. However, if they do reach this point but continue driving past fatigue, the following can happen:

  • Slow reaction. Reaction time is crucial in preventing accidents, especially when operating a vehicle with limited maneuverability, like a truck. A fatigued driver, much like someone under the influence of alcohol, can react more slowly to changes in traffic conditions, signals, or unexpected obstacles.
  • The risk of falling asleep behind the wheel. Perhaps the most alarming consequence of pushing past fatigue is the very real risk of falling asleep while driving. Microsleeps – brief, involuntary episodes of loss of attention – are particularly dangerous as drivers may not even be aware they are experiencing them. Falling asleep, even briefly, at highway speeds can lead a truck to travel several hundred feet uncontrolled.
  • Collision with other vehicles. When truckers are fatigued, their ability to accurately judge distances and speed diminishes, increasing the likelihood of rear-ending another vehicle or making unsafe lane changes that can result in side-impact crashes. Given the size and mass of commercial trucks compared to passenger vehicles, these collisions can have devastating effects.
  • Collision with highway structures. Fatigue can lead to poor vehicle control, resulting in trucks veering off the road and colliding with highway structures like partitions, signs, and mile markers. Such collisions not only endanger the truck driver but can also create hazardous conditions for other road users.
  • Improper braking. Tired drivers are more likely to misjudge the speed of traffic or the distance to a stop sign or red light, leading to improper braking. This problem is especially serious when operating a large truck as these vehicles have an increased braking distance.
  • Failure to use turn signals. Even simple actions like using turn signals can become neglected tasks when a driver is fighting off fatigue. This failure to communicate intent can confuse or surprise other drivers, potentially leading to collisions.
  • Failure to stay in designated lanes. Maintaining a consistent lane position relies on constant minor adjustments, which becomes challenging when concentration lapses due to fatigue. Drifting across lanes uncontrollably introduces risks of sideswiping incidents and head-on collisions in the case of oncoming traffic lanes.
  • Failure to properly merge. Merging into traffic safely requires timing, awareness, and attention to the behavior of other drivers – capabilities that can be compromised by fatigue. Unsuccessful merging attempts can lead to sideswipe collisions or force other drivers into dangerous maneuvers to avoid crashes.
  • Failure to pay attention to speed limits. Fatigue impairs a driver’s ability to focus on and process information, including speed limits. This can result in speeding or, conversely, driving too slow and impeding the flow of traffic. Statistically speaking, speeding is involved in about one-third of all motor vehicle fatalities on U.S. roads, including those resulting from truck accidents.

While fatigue may affect everyone differently, all truck drivers are humans. They may think they can remain vigilant and drive safely even when tired. However, there will eventually be a point when they start experiencing the signs of fatigue.

A truck accident attorney can represent the rights of victims when a fatigued truck driver causes serious accidents and injuries.

Truck Driver Fatigue: Is It the Truck Driver or the Trucking Company’s Fault?

Determining fault in fatigue-related truck accidents

When investigating the root cause of truck driver fatigue in a particular accident, the victim and their truck accident lawyer need to consider the responsibilities and pressures from both the drivers and the trucking companies they work for.

The Truck Driver’s Responsibility

Truck drivers are ultimately responsible for their health and fatigue levels. They are expected to comply with HOS regulations, manage their schedules to allow for adequate rest, and refrain from driving when too tired. However, drivers often face pressures that might compel them to push beyond safe limits, including financial incentives for faster deliveries and personal estimations of their endurance.

Trucking companies play a critical role in promoting or preventing driver fatigue, whether they realize it or not. These companies are responsible for scheduling deliveries, enforcing compliance with HOS regulations, and ensuring their drivers are adequately trained in sleep management and fatigue recognition. Unfortunately, some companies prioritize profits over safety, pressuring their drivers to meet unrealistic schedules or tacitly encouraging them to overlook HOS regulations.

Furthermore, the culture within a trucking company can influence driver behavior. A company that promotes safety and supports its drivers’ well-being is less likely to have issues with fatigued driving than one that prioritizes speed and quantity over safety.

Who Is Responsible? 

Determining fault in fatigue-related truck accidents involves thoroughly investigating the driver and trucking company’s practices. If a driver knowingly drives while fatigued, they can be held liable. However, if it is determined that the trucking company created conditions that encouraged or required unsafe driving practices, the company can also be held accountable.

An experienced truck accident attorney can investigate the accident's circumstances, review logbooks and schedules, and help determine the responsible party.

How Can You Prove Truck Driver Fatigue After an Accident?

Sometimes, victims of truck accidents can sense that the truck driver who hit them was tired or sleepy at the scene, but they may not know how to prove it. Fortunately, several pieces of evidence can prove truck driver fatigue:

  • Data from electronic logging devices (ELDs). The introduction of electronic logging devices (ELDs) has been a game-changer in monitoring truck drivers’ hours of service. ELDs automatically record driving time, ensuring more accurate and less tamperable data than traditional paper logs. In the event of an accident, data from ELDs can be reliable in determining whether a driver was operating beyond the legally permitted hours, indicating potential fatigue during the crash.
  • Driver’s logs. Before the widespread implementation of ELDs, drivers maintained manual logs of their driving hours. Although ELDs are now mandatory, examining old logs or logs from exempt vehicles can still provide documentation. Discrepancies in these logs may suggest manipulation to hide or decrease excessive driving hours on paper, possibly hinting at fatigue.
  • Employment records. Employment records can supplement ELD and log data by providing a broader view of the driver’s schedule and workload. These records might reveal instances where drivers were scheduled to drive without adequate rest periods between shifts, increasing the likelihood of fatigue.
  • Witness statements. Witnesses to the accident, including other drivers, passengers, or bystanders, can provide testimonials regarding the truck driver’s behavior before the collision. Signs of fatigue, such as drifting between lanes or inconsistent speeds, can be used to establish the driver’s condition at the time of the accident.
  • Surveillance footage. Video evidence from dashcams, traffic cameras, or surveillance systems near the accident site can show that the driver fell asleep or lacked the necessary capabilities to operate the truck safely.
  • Credit card statements. Though not immediately obvious, a driver’s credit card statements might reveal purchases that align with attempts to stave off sleep, such as multiple transactions for coffee or energy drinks over an extended driving period. This indirect evidence can support your allegations of fatigue.
  • Expert testimony. Accident reconstruction experts can analyze the available evidence – skid marks, vehicle damage, ELD data, and more – to build a scenario that points to driver fatigue. Their professional assessment can strengthen your claim by providing a scientific basis for what happened prior to the crash and why the truck driver operated their vehicle the way they did.

Not all of this evidence may be readily available to you following the crash. That is why you want the assistance of a personal injury lawyer to gather the necessary evidence and prove your truck accident case.

Jarrett Blakeley

Firm founder Jarrett Blakeley fights to get maximum compensation for all of Blakeley Law Firm’s clients. He has been practicing law since 2006 and takes great pride in representing the rights of injured individuals against the insurance companies and the law firms that represent them. He has successfully represented thousands of clients and recovered tens of millions of dollars on their behalf. Mr. Blakeley strives to give all of his clients personal attention and maximum effort and seeks to instill a firm culture that prioritizes customer service and compassion for the injured over all else. Fighting for the injured is Jarrett Blakeley’s greatest passion and he looks forward to fighting for the injured for the rest of his career.

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