Fatigue can significantly affect a driver’s performance when on the road. It is also a common cause of accidents involving trucks and other vehicles. A recent Large Truck Crash Causation Study (LTCCS) found that around 13 percent of commercial motor vehicle drivers were fatigued when getting involved in accidents.
Driver fatigue could result from the negligence of drivers or trucking companies, which means that victims of truck accidents caused by driver fatigue may file a claim against the negligent parties.
What Makes Truck Driver Fatigue So Dangerous?
Driving while fatigued is dangerous for the driver, other motorists, and pedestrians. One risk of driver fatigue is that the driver can fall asleep behind the wheel.
Driving while drowsy can severely impair a driver's ability to function
In fact, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drowsy driving is as dangerous as drunk driving. Specifically, the CDC found that being awake for 18 hours straight affects individuals the same way alcohol would with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.05 percent, with 0.08 percent being the national legal limit for drunk driving.
Meanwhile, people who remain awake for at least 24 straight hours will experience the same level of impairment as a driver with a BAC of 0.10 percent. Keep in mind that the legal limit for truck drivers is even lower than the 0.08 percent limit, with the limit being 0.04 percent for these drivers.
Driver fatigue is dangerous for a few key reasons, particularly when it involves trucks.
Fatigued Drivers Struggle to Pay Attention to the Road
When truck drivers experience fatigue, they may not give sufficient attention to the road. For example, truck drivers may not realize that another motorist has pulled in front of them when switching lanes or that vehicles in front of them have stopped. As a result, truck drivers may fail to recognize this and slow or stop in time before hitting vehicles in front. Other truck drivers may not notice other vehicles in blind spots and neglect to check them before turning or switching lanes.
Trucks are more difficult to maneuver in general, and fatigued driving amplifies this difficulty. Because of trucks’ weight and mass, drivers can lose control of these vehicles more easily and cause more damage and harm.
Fatigued Driving Compromises Judgment
Truck drivers often need to make quick decisions on the road. Because of their difficulty to maneuver, trucks need more time to make successful lane changes, turns, and stops, requiring the driver to remain consistently awake and alert. If truck drivers are drowsy, they may not make the right decisions at the right time.
Reaction Time Decreases With Fatigued Driving
Truck drivers also require fast reaction times to avoid potential hazards and keep others safe on the road. However, fatigued driving can significantly reduce reaction times and lead to accidents.
For instance, if a driver in front of the truck suddenly needs to stop due to a hazard, the truck driver behind them needs to be able to make a complete stop or swerve in time. In this case, a slow reaction time could cause the truck driver to crash into the back of the vehicle, and vehicles behind the truck may not have been able to anticipate this, causing them to collide with the back of the truck.
These potential risks make it critical for truck drivers to avoid fatigue while driving.
What Causes Truck Driver Fatigue?
The biggest cause of truck driver fatigue is insufficient sleep, making drivers drowsy. Truck drivers get an average of fewer than five hours of sleep per night, while the CDC recommends adults get seven to nine hours. While professional truck drivers have specific rules and regulations that require them to get plenty of rest and sleep, not all trucking companies and drivers adhere to them.
The following are some additional factors that can cause truck driver fatigue:
#1. Working Long or Unusual Shifts
Truck drivers frequently need to drive at odd hours to ensure deliveries and pickups take place on time. In some cases, truck drivers may switch places with other drivers to ensure work is timely. However, this may cause drivers to operate the vehicle when their alertness is not at its peak. Even if drivers attempt to get enough sleep before their shift, they may not have adapted to their specific schedule. For instance, a driver may struggle to adjust to working at night when they are used to working during the day.
People need plenty of rest to recover from various illnesses, and truck drivers are no exception. The common cold, flu, and other sicknesses can naturally cause truck drivers to feel drowsy, even if they do not take medication that may increase that drowsiness. Due to their schedule, drivers may not be able to take the breaks they need to get ample rest and make a recovery.
Truck drivers often use drugs and alcohol. Half of all truck drivers surveyed in one study admitted to alcohol use. In the same study, 30 percent of drivers also admitted they took amphetamines. While the legal limit for drunk driving in the U.S. is a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 percent, the country holds truck drivers to higher standards with a legal limit of 0.04 percent. If truck drivers are intoxicated while driving, they risk the lives of other drivers on the road.
#4. Medication Use
Certain medications may also make drivers drowsy or intoxicate them and impair their driving.
What to Do if You Are in an Accident with a Fatigued Truck Driver
Truck driver fatigue can cause serious injuries or death. While drowsy driving on its own is dangerous, regardless of the type of vehicle involved, larger trucks can cause more severe damage and harm if fatigue results in a trucking accident. If you are in a truck accident and suspect truck driver fatigue was the cause, the following are some steps to take immediately afterward:
#1. Call 911 and Stay at the Scene
If you can, call 911 or have another individual call the authorities. Both the police and paramedics should arrive at the scene after notifying the authorities. After dialing 911 and summoning the authorities, you must stay at the scene. Leaving the scene immediately after the accident could lead to legal consequences.
#2. Never Admit Fault
When speaking with the authorities and giving a statement, be honest about the accident, but do not admit to fault. If you noticed signs of truck driver fatigue, such as swerving or decreased reaction time, indicate this to the authorities. Even if you believe you partially caused an accident, do not apologize or discuss fault. Instead, explain the details of the accident without detailing whom you believe caused it. An accurate police report may support your claim later.
#3. Capture Evidence of the Accident
Physical evidence at the accident scene may further support your accident claim or lawsuit later. Capture evidence such as photos or videos of vehicle damage, injuries, truck driver insurance information, details about the truck, and the area where the accident took place. Additionally, try to get contact information from witnesses who may be able to testify in your favor.
#4. Seek Medical Attention
If you sustain injuries at the accident scene that require immediate treatment, the paramedics should take you to a nearby hospital. However, you may not have any readily apparent injuries in the hours or days following an accident. While you may not notice any symptoms, you should still seek professional medical attention for a thorough assessment.
You may find that you sustained injuries that might become more serious later, and undergoing a medical examination can create medical reports. These reports may also help prove that your injuries are as serious as you claim they are when filing a claim or lawsuit.
#5. File an Insurance Claim
After collecting evidence and medical records, among other information, you can begin the claims process by filing with the truck driver’s insurer. It is important to avoid discussing fault during this process, and you will want to be careful about making any statements. An experienced truck accident attorney can navigate the claims process if it involves serious injuries, large amounts of compensation, and other details that make this process complex.
Who Is Liable for Truck Driver Fatigue?
Drivers of all types need to practice safe driving to keep everyone safe on the road. This includes taking steps to mitigate fatigue and drowsiness. If truck drivers do not operate a truck with sufficient responsibility and safety, they will have failed a general duty of care. As a result, you can hold them liable if they breach this duty of care and cause an accident and subsequent damages.
On the other hand, drivers may not always be entirely responsible for accidents involving fatigued driving. For example, you can hold a trucking company responsible if you can prove that the company pressured fatigued drivers to continue working or even encouraged them to violate hours of service regulations.
Other cases may involve negligent parties responsible for maintaining and repairing trucks, whether a subcontractor or trucking company is responsible. Faulty or inadequate maintenance can make a truck more difficult to control, potentially resulting in an accident with fatigued drivers. In addition, defective parts could contribute to an accident and may fall under the responsibility of the parts or vehicle manufacturer.
Another potential entity responsible for truck accidents may be local, state, or city governments that neglect to maintain safe road conditions. Faulty or missing traffic signals or signs, unclear instructions, and low-quality roadways that require repairs could all contribute to accidents.
Depending on the nature of the accident, accident victims may be able to file claims or lawsuits against all responsible parties.
Filing a Claim for Negligence Based on Truck Driver Fatigue
The claims process following an accident involving fatigued driving may be relatively simple, particularly if injuries are minor and the amount of potential compensation is low. However, cases may get complex and involve many factors that may benefit from the expertise of a truck accident lawyer. When filing a claim for an accident involving truck driver fatigue or another form of negligence, keep in mind:
The Potential Damages Involved
Truck accidents, like other vehicle accidents, can cause serious injuries and other damages. All of these can factor into a claim when negotiating with insurance companies. If negligence caused the accident, victims may recover compensation that covers their damages.
Two main damages may develop from an accident:
Special damages involve specific monetary losses that typically come with a specific dollar amount.
Some examples of special or economic damages include:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages due to time taken off from work to recover
- The cost of ongoing treatment
- Vehicle damage
- Rehabilitation costs
- Anticipated lost wages due to disability
Meanwhile, general or non-economic damages include:
- Pain and suffering
- Mental distress such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Loss of consortium
Determining the worth of general damages can present more challenges, which is why accident victims should maintain a pain journal and other documents to prove the extent of their suffering. Medical records may also help support these claims based on the physical injuries sustained.
The Statute of Limitations
You do not have an unlimited amount of time to file an accident claim. Every state has a specific statute of limitations that dictates how long people have to file. These could range from around two to four years but will vary from state to state. Regardless of your state’s statute of limitations, make sure you prepare your claim as soon as possible. Otherwise, failing to file in time could severely hinder or eliminate your chances of recovering compensation.
Speak With a Truck Accident Attorney to Discuss a Potential Case
If you are getting ready to file a claim, you may benefit from the expertise of a knowledgeable accident attorney. The claims process can get complicated, and going it alone could limit your ability to recover full compensation.
If you don't know whether you have a case that an attorney will be willing to handle, schedule a free consultation to discuss your situation. The right attorney will explain your rights and may represent you in a case involving a fatigued truck driver or another negligent party.