Do Drowsy Truck Drivers Cause More Accidents? 

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drowsy truck drivers

Driving a commercial truck is one of the most dangerous jobs in the nation. The enormous size and weight of big rigs make them more challenging to operate. Sometimes it is other drivers who cut off tractor trailers, or pedestrians who dart out in front of them giving them no time to stop. 

However, most problematic for truck drivers are the long hours, monotonous trips, and pressure to meet tight deadlines. This discussion explores how and why fatigue-related truck accidents occur, ways to prevent them, and what to do if a drowsy trucker injures you or a loved one. 

Are Drowsy Driving Truck Accidents Common?

Driver fatigue is the leading cause of truck accidents in the United States every year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that truck driver fatigue is a contributing factor in 40 percent of heavy truck accidents. 

Data from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) suggest that number may be even higher. In one study, the NTSB found more than half of truck driving accidents involved drowsy drivers. In 18 percent of those accidents, the driver admitted falling asleep behind the wheel. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reports that annually 20,000 people are injured and 750 people are killed by overtired drivers. 

How Fatigue Impacts Driving

Of course, fatigue is a problem when a driver falls asleep while operating their vehicle. But even before the driver reaches that point, sleep deficiency impacts their ability to safely operate their rig in more subtle but no less dangerous ways. 

Fatigue compromises a person’s ability to drive safely in the following ways: 

  • Impairs balance
  • Impairs memory 
  • Increases risk-taking 
  • Increases distractibility 
  • Slows reaction time 
  • Slows reflexes 

What drivers may not realize is fatigue can be just as deadly as alcohol consumption for drivers. In fact, driving with less than eight hours of sleep every night is similar to driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.10. That would be over Maryland’s legal BAC of 0.08 percent for drivers of passenger vehicles, and well above the legal limit for truck drivers, which is 0.04 percent. 

Why Is Fatigue Such a Big Problem among Commercial Truck Drivers?

It is understood that every driver is vulnerable to the effects of fatigue. But why are drowsy driving crashes so prevalent among commercial truck drivers? There are a few reasons: 

Awake hours. Although there are federal regulations in place to reduce driver fatigue and prevent drowsy driving accidents and personal injury, the job is still incredibly physically and mentally demanding. Drivers must follow three separate maximum duty limits at all times: 

  • 14-hour driving window limit: Fourteen consecutive hours to drive 11 hours after being off-duty for 10 or more consecutive hours. 
  • 11-hour driving limit: Drivers can only drive for 11 total hours within the 14-consecutive-hour period. 
  • 60/70-hour duty limit: Based on a seven- or eight-day work week, drivers cannot drive once they have been on duty for 60 hours during seven consecutive days, or 70 hours in eight consecutive days. 

Despite legal limits to prevent drowsy driving, it is still possible for a truck driver to become fatigued within these guidelines. Imagine operating a fully loaded tractor trailer on a monotonous stretch of highway for eight straight hours. Operating these enormous, imposing machines is much more taxing than driving a small passenger vehicle. Even with mandatory rest breaks, it is clear to see how tiring the job can be. 

Night driving. Many truck drivers prefer to drive through the night because there is less traffic and they can have an easier ride, avoid delays, and make better time. 

However, night driving is more difficult for individuals operating all types of motor vehicles. Visibility is reduced. Potentially there are more tired or impaired drivers on the road at night. Also, working throughout the night interrupts the body’s natural sleep/wake cycle. 

Rotating shifts. Because of the nature of the trucking profession, many drivers do not have a set schedule. Rotating schedules interfere with the body’s natural pattern of sleeping and waking. Also, continually changing schedules does not always allow drivers to get adequate rest between shifts. 

Sleep disorders. There are a wide range of sleep disorders that affect truck drivers and can cause drowsiness and contribute to fatigue-related accidents. Sleep apnea, insomnia, snoring, or sleepwalking are among the most common. 

An estimated 80 percent of sleep disorders go undiagnosed; therefore, the individual may not even realize their sleep is being compromised. They may go to bed at a reasonable hour and wake up eight or so hours later, but not feel rested or refreshed. 

When we do not get enough sleep, we may have a foggy mind, feel irritable, and have trouble concentrating. After a few days without restful sleep, the effects are even greater. The risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease increase over time. 

The short- and long-term effects of sleep disruptions are real and serious. For a long-haul truck driver, the impact of an untreated sleep disorder can be deadly. 

Preventing Drowsy Driving Tractor Trailer Accidents

Fortunately, the federal government, truck manufacturers, and trucking companies are aware of the risk drowsy drivers pose to the public. There is a concerted effort to protect drivers and everyone who shares the road. 

Federal regulations. Federal regulations are the first step to preventing fatigue and keeping truck drivers safe, rested, and healthy every shift. 

Logbooks. Drivers are required to keep a record of duty status, otherwise known as a log, logbook, or daily log. They must account for all 24 hours of each day, including time off with time spent in the sleeper berth if applicable. 

The log must include the date, tractor and trailer numbers, the carrier’s name and information, and total miles driven per day, among other details. All records must be accurate and true, and authorized government inspectors are permitted to review them at any time. 

Electronic logging devices. Electronic logging devices (ELDs) are similar to logbooks in that they record hours-of-service. However, the use of ELDs is voluntarily, unlike mandatory daily driver logs. 

Because ELDs are connected to the truck’s engine control system, they automatically record the time, date, and location of the vehicle at each change of duty. Unlike hand-written logs that can potentially be falsified, electronic data is much more accurate. They are also equipped with an alert system to warn drivers approaching the hours-of-service limit. 

ELDs have been shown to reduce preventable accidents. A trucking company using them since 1988 reports a 22 percent drop in preventable accidents over a seven-year period. One study of multiple companies voluntarily using ELDs reported a reduction in hours-of-service violations by 50 percent. 

Eye and face tracking technology. Innovative eye and face tracking systems are another tool in the fight to prevent fatigue-related trucking accidents. Driver Safety Solution is one technology that senses when a truck driver is looking away from the road, not paying attention, or has fallen asleep. When that happens, audio alarms are activated and the driver’s seat begins vibrating to alert the driver. 

Can I Prove the Truck Driver Who Caused My Accident Was Overtired?

When a truck accident occurs, the driver and the company that employs them may be held responsible for hours-of-service violations that may have contributed to the crash. It is not always easy to prove driver fatigue. 

Car accident lawyers review cellphone data, receipts, pick-up and drop-off times and dates, as well as driver logs and on-board GPS to determine if the driver worked too many hours, took required rest breaks, or violated federal regulations. If violations occurred, truck owners and operators can be held liable under the law. 

Baltimore Truck Accident Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Defend the Rights of Clients Injured by Negligent Truck Drivers 

If you were hurt in a truck accident that was not your fault, the Baltimore truck accident lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton can help. We will review driver logs, GPS record, and other data to determine if driver fatigue contributed to your accident. We will be your advocate to secure the compensation for which you are entitled. Call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

Our offices are conveniently located in BaltimoreGlen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent clients 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.