What are the Dangers of Microsleep Among Truck Drivers?

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Businesses, consumers, and communities depend on truck drivers to deliver a wide range of goods to warehouses, stores, and homes across the United States. Although truck drivers play an essential role in this country’s economy, driving a commercial truck can be a very dangerous job. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, driving a truck ranks seventh on the list of top 25 deadliest occupations in the United States. One of the key factors that makes driving a truck so dangerous is driver fatigue. Tight delivery deadlines, long stretches of monotonous highways, and driving through the night can make truck drivers prone to drowsy driving, which is a serious problem in the trucking industry.

Extreme fatigue, combined with boredom when driving, can make truck drivers more likely to experience a microsleep episode while driving. This can cause devastating truck accidents, involving extensive property damage, severe personal injuries, and fatalities. Motorists involved in an accident involving a truck are urged to contact a seasoned truck accident lawyer for assistance.

What is Microsleep?

Microsleep occurs when a person falls asleep for a short period of time, usually from a few to several seconds. It is the body’s response to severe sleep deprivation or consistent disrupted sleep. The more sleep deprived a person is, the greater the risk that he or she may experience a microsleep episode. In fact, according to one 2020 study, episodes of microsleep indicated more serious sleep deprivation in people with obstructive sleep apnea. There is no single medical condition that causes microsleep, but any condition or scenario that significantly disrupts a person’s sleep cycle can cause microsleep. Some of the common risk factors for microsleep include the following:

  • Working night shifts
  • Experiencing severe insomnia
  • Unpredictable work schedule that causes shift work sleep disorder
  • Having obstructed, central, or mixed sleep apnea
  • Using prescription drugs or over-the-counter medication that causes drowsiness

How Does Microsleep Affect Truck Drivers?

Truck drivers are under a great deal of pressure to deliver their cargo from one location to another as safely as possible, and within the specified deadline. Although truck drivers are required to follow the federal hours of service (HOS) regulations, which requires truck drivers to take a 30-minute break after eight consecutive hours of driving time, many truck drivers feel intense pressure to work around these rules to meet the very tight delivery deadlines. However, when an exhausted truck driver skips out on much-needed sleep and continues driving, particularly at night when the body naturally wants to sleep, this can have devastating consequences. For example, if a truck driver is traveling at a speed of 70 mph and experienced a microsleep episode that lasted a mere six seconds, the truck would travel approximately 656 feet, which is roughly the length of two football fields. If other vehicles are in the vicinity when a truck driver has a microsleep episode, the consequences can be tragic. Truck drivers are at an increased risk for microsleep because they are often sleep deprived, and they perform monotonous activities that can lead to exhaustion and boredom behind the wheel.

What are the Signs that a Truck Driver is Experiencing Microsleep?

There are common signs that a truck driver, or any other motorist, is drowsy while driving, including swerving in and out of lanes, tailgating, and cutting off other drivers. Microsleep is extremely dangerous because the driver actually falls asleep. Although this only lasts for a matter of seconds, it only takes a moment for a truck driver to swerve into another lane, cut off another motorist, or fail to slow down in time to avoid hitting another driver. Microsleep is also dangerous because a truck driver may not even realize that he or she fell asleep because it can happen without the person even knowing it. The following are common signs that a truck driver may be experiencing microsleep:

  • The driver is staring straight ahead with a bored, blank look on his or her face.
  • The driver’s head falls forward, and then jolts back, which is a sign of nodding off.
  • The driver is blinking slowly and excessively.
  • The driver is struggling to keep his or her eyes open.
  • The driver is constantly yawning.

What Causes Drowsy Driving Truck Accidents?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), drowsy driving accidents cause hundreds of fatalities and thousands of injuries each year in the United States. When a truck driver is drowsy, his or her ability to react quickly to a situation becomes compromised. When an 80,000-pound commercial truck is driven by a drowsy driver, it can cause serious accidents that result in extensive property damage, severe injuries, and fatalities. Yet, driving while drowsy seems to be an occupational hazard among truck drivers. The NHTSA and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) developed a report known as the Truck Crash Causation Study, which looked at 12,000 truck accidents over the course of more than three years. The accidents caused 249 deaths and 1,654 injuries. Close to 75 percent of the crashes involved a truck crashing into at least one other vehicle. Researchers found that the accidents were caused by a range of factors, including the following:

  • Truck driver’s behavior
  • Condition of the truck
  • Condition of the other vehicles involved in the accident
  • Condition of the truck driver and the other drivers prior to the crash
  • Weather conditions
  • Roadway factors

Federal HOS regulations are in place to prevent truck drivers from continuing to drive to meet tight delivery deadlines. However, even the maximum number of hours that truck drivers are allowed to be behind the wheel can be exhausting. In addition, truck drivers are not known for having particularly healthy lifestyles. Oftentimes, truck drivers eat a diet that involves a significant amount of fast food. This, combined with the sedentary lifestyle, can lead to a range of health issues, including obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, obstructive sleep apnea, and microsleep episodes. If a truck driver is also taking prescription or over-the-counter medication that causes drowsiness, it can impair their response time, judgment, reflexes, and driving habits.

How Do I Prove Liability in a Drowsy Driving-Related Truck Accident?

If a motorist is severely injured in a truck accident, they will need to prove that the truck driver was negligent in some way. Unfortunately, it is difficult to prove that a truck driver was drowsy at the time of the accident, unless he or she admits to being exhausted, which is unlikely. However, truck drivers are required to follow strict protocols regarding HOS, which they are required to record in their electronic logging device (ELD). Unfortunately, truck drivers are known for falsifying their logs to continue driving. Obtaining copies of the drivers’ logs and requesting copies of motel, gas, and restaurant receipts and business documents can help prove that a truck driver exceeded the HOS.

In some cases, the trucking companies set unreasonable deadlines for truck drivers, which can cause the drivers to engage in unsafe driving behaviors, including speeding, failing to take the required rest breaks, and violating other federal standards. Truck companies may be held liable for drowsy driving truck accidents if the company imposed unfair deadlines on the truck driver.

What Damages can I Receive in a Drowsy Driving Truck Accident?

Truck accident injuries are often quite severe, if the occupants of the vehicle involved in the accident were lucky enough to survive the crash. As a result, victims often require extensive medical care that can be quite costly. Depending on the nature of the accident and the severity of the injuries, the victims may be eligible for the following damages:

  • Economic damages: These are expenses that the victim lost as a result of the accident and can be precisely calculated. They include medical expenses, past and future lost wages, property damage, lost earning capacity, physical therapy, vocational therapy, and the cost of full-time home assistance, if necessary.
  • Non-economic damages: These are expenses associated with a compromised quality of life and are more difficult to quantify. They include pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of consortium, and loss of enjoyment of life.
  • Punitive damages: These are rarely awarded but are applicable when an accident is caused by a driver whose actions are considered particularly egregious. They are meant to punish the at-fault party for their negligent behavior. For example, if a truck driver caused a serious side-impact car accident while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, he or she may be liable for punitive damages.

Maryland Truck Accident Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Represent Victims of Drowsy Driving Truck Accidents

If you or a loved one was seriously injured in a drowsy driving truck accident, do not hesitate to contact the Maryland truck accident lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton as soon as possible. Microsleep is a dangerous problem in the trucking industry but is preventable. Truck drivers must make safety a priority and get the sleep they need. Our dedicated legal team will assist you with every step of the claims process and secure the maximum financial compensation you deserve for your injuries. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.

Our offices are conveniently located in BaltimoreColumbiaGlen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent victims throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.