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Semi-truck accidents and driver fatigue

Semi-truck accidents are devastating. They can happen instantly and leave a lasting impact on everyone involved, with injuries or deaths to follow. These accidents can usually be avoided, but occur due to the negligence of the semi-truck driver or their employer. 

Truck drivers have to spend a lot of time on the road to deliver products that we depend on every day. These long trips can wear on them, physically and mentally. 

Fatigue is one of the most common causes of semi-truck accidents and is a result of physical and mental exertion that impairs driving performance. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), in a study on the cause of truck accidents, 13 percent of commercial motor vehicle drivers were considered fatigued at the time of the crash. Other research by the National Transportation Safety Board found that driver fatigue is responsible for up 30-40% of all truck crashes

Regardless of the exact percentage of accidents fatigue is responsible for, it’s a significant problem for the safety of those who share the road with truck drivers. 

The FMCSA developed hours of service regulations to keep truck drivers and non-commercial drivers safe. While these rules have changed over time, the same principles apply: only allow drivers to be on the road for a set time. Currently, truckers can drive a maximum of 11 hours after ten consecutive hours off and may only spend 14 hours on duty. 

24-hour logbooks are meant to keep drivers accountable as they are required to record their driving activity for every 24 hours of service. 

While these rules and guidelines may seem straightforward in theory, employer pressure, delivery-time constraints and paycheck cuts can cause drivers to push past their set hours. Weather and traffic delays may put them behind schedule, resulting in loss of income for the trucking company and driver. 

One family of a driver in Texas filed a lawsuit on behalf of their son after he died from a fatigue-induced truck accident. They alleged that the trucking company had pressured drivers into making their logbooks appear legal, while in reality, they made longer trips. The driver who died had averaged around 17 hours on duty per day, for several days leading up to the accident.

What Causes Truck Driver Fatigue?

A variety of factors can cause truck driving fatigue. Organizations like the FMCSA and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have studied fatigue’s effects and how drivers develop it. 

  • Lack of sleep: For drivers who travel cross-country and are required to sleep in their truck, it can be challenging to find a safe place to pull over for the night. 
  • Time on the road: If you’ve ever driven a long distance, you know how the road can take a toll on your body. For truck drivers, this is an occupational hazard as they put hours of driving on their bodies every day. This strain can make it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle, which can roll into sleep deprivation and fatigue on the road.
  • Time of day: The time of day drivers are en route can affect how alert they are and how fast they can react. The human body is naturally tired late at night and early in the afternoon. If a driver isn’t well-rested and drives during one of these periods, they can develop fatigue.
  • Medications or over-the-counter drugs: If a driver has a cold or is dealing with allergies, they may think they can shake the effects of medications that treat their symptoms. However, most of these drugs cause drowsiness as a side effect.

How Does Truck Driver Fatigue Cause Accidents?

Driving drowsy can cause the driver to have slower reaction times and difficulty avoiding hazards. According to the Sleep Foundation, a person who has been awake 18 hours has a similar judgment and reaction time to someone with a blood alcohol content of .05, which is just under the legal limit. 

What Should You Do If You Are Injured in a Truck Driver Fatigue Accident?

Regardless of the reason for driving with fatigue, truckers and trucking companies must be held responsible for the damage done. Early delivery bonuses or fraudulently compliant logbooks are no excuse for the injuries and deaths caused by a semi-truck crash. 

Consulting with an experienced semi-truck accident lawyer is the first step to recovering damages done by the negligent driver or company. Truck accidents can be more complicated than other motor vehicle accidents, due to the regulations truck drivers and truck companies have to follow. 

An attorney will guide you through filing a lawsuit against the driver or trucking company as the rules are regularly updated and revised. An experienced semi-truck accident lawyer can also help gather evidence and carefully create the argument you need for a positive outcome. Here are some of the items our attorneys at Eng and Woods research for semi-truck accident cases. Regardless of who the responsibility falls on – the driver, trucking company or insurance company – a seasoned lawyer from Eng and Woods will help you get the compensation you deserve. If you’ve been affected by a fatigued truck driver, contact us today to see how we can help. For more information on our lawyers, visit our attorney profiles page.

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