Truck drivers play an essential role in the modern economy, but their long hours on the road may lead to driver fatigue, accidents, and fatalities. Impaired performance on the road commonly stems from a lack of sleep, and drivers may go to significant lengths to remain driving when they should take a break.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), an average of more than 4,300 people died in large truck crashes every year in the last 20 years. The majority of those deaths occur in vehicles that collide with big rigs, large trucks, and eighteen-wheelers. A shocking 15 percent of deaths involve pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists.
What is driver fatigue?
The Department of Health and Human Services suggests that most crashes stemming from driver fatigue and drowsy driving occur from 4:00 a.m to 6:00 a.m., midnight to 2:00 a.m., and 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. The DHHS suggests that drivers should take extra care when driving at these times because there is an increased risk of meeting a drowsy driver on the road.
However, it is the responsibility of drivers to avoid driving while drowsy or exhausted so that other drivers aren’t put in danger when tired truckers take the wheel. The DHHS indicates that driver fatigue may cause a truck driver to have slower reactions, which may increase the likelihood of an accident occurring when the driver can’t react quickly enough to avoid a collision.
Drowsy driving may also put the driver in a bad mood, which can increase the risk of road rage. Brain fog from tiredness may also impact the driver’s ability to navigate the roads safely.
Unfortunately, the negative impacts on truck driver health aren’t the only dangers that stem from driver fatigue. According to statistics published by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, 13 percent of commercial motor vehicle drivers were fatigued at the time of their crashes.
The Influence of Stimulant Drugs on Drivers
The demands of the trucking industry are so severe for many drivers that they forgo sleep and abuse stimulants to remain on the road well past when they should drive. One meta-analysis published in the Journal of Preventative Medicine and Hygiene indicated frequent use of amphetamines and cocaine by truck drivers.
Unfortunately, studies have shown that these stimulants have a toxic effect on driving and a driver’s ability to navigate the roads safely. Some drivers have started using dangerous stimulants because of the problematic driving schedules required by their employers. Truckers must often deliver their trailers on timelines that don’t allow them to get sufficient sleep during the journey.
An interesting study published in the journal Psychopharmacology called “Effects of Coffee on Driving Performance During Prolonged Simulated Highway Driving” revealed that a single cup of coffee could positively affect a driver’s ability to keep their vehicle in the right lane.
Unfortunately, further research on the topic indicates that high caffeine consumption results in drivers feeling sleepier than those who don’t consume significant levels of caffeine. A study in the journal Safety Science showed that high caffeine use reduces the overall health of drivers and does nothing to reduce the rate of crashes.
FMCSA Regulations for Truck Drivers
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration places limits on the number of hours a truck driver may remain on the road as well as when the driver drives. Known as Hours-of-Service Regulations, the government created these rules for drivers of trucks weighing more than 10,000 pounds or those that are driving specific types of cargo, such as hazardous materials.
The hours-of-service regulations include the following.
Proving Truck Driver Fatigue in a Lawsuit
For victims of a truck accident where driver fatigue is suspected, the victim’s lawyer will investigate to prove that fatigue was the cause of or a contributing factor to the accident.
Each state has its own rules on filing personal injury lawsuits. Under the California Code of Civil Procedure Section 335.1, victims may file a legal claim within two years of the date of the accident. In New York, plaintiffs have a three-year statute of limitations, and Texas allows victims two years from the date of the incident to file.
Documents and evidence the victim’s legal team may use to prove the truck driver was at fault in the accident include the following.
Police reports. One of the most valuable investigative tools available to a legal team working on a truck accident personal injury case is the police records from the crash. Police officers receive training that helps them recognize impaired driving.
Driver logbooks and recorded hours. A driver may exceed the nation’s Hours-of-Service Regulations and cause an accident. The logbooks and recorded hours of the driver’s activities can help the victim’s legal team prove a truck driver exceeded the time limits established for safe driving.
Witness statements. When a crash has witnesses, the legal team can determine whether the truck driver engaged in evasive maneuvers to avoid a collision. When a driver doesn’t try to prevent a crash, they might be guilty of falling asleep at the wheel or driving while impaired.
Crash data and facts. Vehicle data may help prove the facts of a case. For example, the time of day the accident occurred may indicate a higher likelihood of a truck driver operating a vehicle while fatigued.