Driver fatigue can have effects similar to driving while intoxicated. Driver fatigue causes truck accidents because drowsiness behind the wheel often leads to slowed response times, impaired judgment, and lapses in focus and attention.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) places fatigue in the top 10 factors for collisions involving large trucks.
As a result, drivers experiencing fatigue are more likely to lose control of their vehicles. Lack of alertness due to drowsiness can make it difficult, if not impossible, to regain control of a large truck, leading to a crash. In cases where the driver falls completely asleep, these accidents can be fatal.
Consequences of Driver Fatigue
When a driver experiences fatigue, it can severely inhibit his or her ability to operate a vehicle. This can be especially detrimental when it comes to driving a large commercial truck, given that operation of these vehicles often requires extra skill. Combined with the extra weight and size of a truck, fatigue can cause a driver to crash from:
- Swaying between lanes.
- Drifting off the road.
- Accelerating due to unconscious pressure on the gas pedal.
Drivers who fall asleep at the wheel may direct their vehicles completely off the road, causing a collision with a metal or concrete median, a tree, and even another vehicle. Jerking awake can also lead to a crash if the driver overcorrects the steering wheel, causing the vehicle to spin or rollover.
Causes of Driver Fatigue
Several different factors can contribute to driver fatigue. In general, drowsiness occurs when you have not gotten an adequate amount of sleep. In addition, the act of driving—particularly on the highway—can become repetitive. As a result, it can have a lulling effect that may be further exacerbated by a lack of sleep. Other factors that may contribute to driver fatigue include:
- Driving during “naturally drowsy” hours: According to the FMCSA, the body becomes naturally drowsy at certain times of day, making it more difficult to avoid driver fatigue. These hours are between 12 a.m. and 6 a.m., as well as between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.
- Taking certain medications: Drowsiness is a side effect of many different types of over-the-counter medication. The directions on these medications often suggest avoiding the operation of heavy machinery—including vehicles—after taking a dose.
- Overwork: While studies suggest that time of day tends to have a greater effect, the number of hours spent working can further instigate drowsiness behind the wheel. Truck drivers often operate on tight schedules, requiring them to drive for several hours uninterrupted.
- Untreated sleep disorders: Drivers who have an undiagnosed or untreated sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea, may experience a higher likelihood of falling asleep at the wheel.
While truck drivers are not the only drivers that experience fatigue on the road, they have an increased likelihood due to their jobs. This applies especially to long-haul truck drivers, who often drive in shifts of up to 11 hours at a time in the United States.
According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), these drivers average about 5.18 hours of sleep, which is not adequate to maintain alertness on the job. When this lack of sleep combines with long schedules, use of certain medications, or the presence of a sleep disorder, the chance of a collision significantly increases.
Driver Fatigue Happens More Often Than You Expect
Using information from police and hospital reports, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that drowsiness may have been the cause of around 91,000 crashes in 2017. This resulted in 795 fatalities and approximately 50,000 injured. Since drowsiness is so difficult to measure, the NHTSA suggests that these numbers are underestimated.
Discuss Your Truck Accident Case with an Attorney
Understanding how driver fatigue causes truck accidents is one matter—proving it in a claim is another. If you were involved in a collision with a truck driver and you believe driver fatigue was a factor, a lawyer may be able to help build your case. Though it can be difficult to identify drowsiness as the cause of a crash, your lawyer can work to uncover evidence that supports your claim against the liable party.
In some cases, the liable party may be the driver. With commercial truck drivers, however, the employer might hold responsibility. A truck accident attorney from Ben Crump Law, PLLC can fight for the compensation you deserve, whether it is from the driver’s insurance company or a commercial trucking company. Our firm does not shy away from tough cases. To learn more about Ben Crump Law, PLLC, contact us today at (800) 235-0444.