The trucking industry has a significant role in the U.S. economy, delivering nearly three-quarters of the products shipped to stores and businesses. When driving on major interstates, it is not unusual to see a large presence of tractor-trailers as the nearly four million truck drivers deliver these goods, often traveling across multiple states.
Unfortunately, significant risks are involved in using massive vehicles to deliver shipments every day of the year. Not only do these large commercial trucks require frequent maintenance due to the wear and tear that miles of hauling heavy loads create, but the truck drivers can also feel the wear and tear of the job. Truck driver fatigue is a major cause of accidents involving commercial vehicles. If you are involved in a truck accident, it’s important to seek the help of a truck accident lawyer who can help you understand your legal rights and options.
What Is Truck Driver Fatigue, and How Dangerous Is It?
As explained by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)—the agency responsible for regulating and overseeing the U.S. trucking industry—fatigue is mental or physical exertion that impairs performance. The FMCSA’s Large Truck Crash Causation Study reveals that around 13 percent of truck drivers involved in accidents reported feeling tired at the time of the accident.
Truck drivers are under immense pressure to deliver their shipments on time, and many are tempted to cheat their electronic logs of the hours worked to work more hours. As noted by the FMCSA, being awake for 18 hours creates deficits in the skills truck drivers need to operate their vehicles safely that are comparable to a blood alcohol content of 0.08 grams of alcohol per deciliter of blood, the legal impairment limit for most drivers in the country who are over 21.
(The law holds truck drivers to a lower legal impairment limit than other drivers.)
Former studies conducted by the federal government indicate that three out of every four truck drivers have committed at least one type of driving error due to fatigue.
The Causes of Truck Driver Fatigue
The most common causes of truck driver fatigue include:
- Lack of adequate sleep. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that adults get seven to nine hours of sleep each night for optimal health and alertness.
- The hours the truck driver operates their vehicle. Truck drivers often operate during the late night hours to avoid heavy daytime traffic. Unfortunately, most humans are instinctively wired to sleep during these hours due to the body’s sleep/wake cycle, known as the Circadian rhythm. Driving during these hours can reduce the driver’s ability to respond quickly to obstacles in the roadway, increasing the risk of a crash.
- Certain medical conditions impair the quality of sleep that the driver gets, such as sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a condition with temporary pauses in the sufferer’s breathing while they sleep. These pauses can last up to 10 seconds, the FMCSA explains, and the sufferer can have up to 400 pauses in breathing in a single period of rest, leaving them feeling unrested even if they have obtained the appropriate number of sleep hours. The FMCSA has determined that nearly one-third of all commercial truck drivers suffer from sleep apnea.
- How quickly the driver begins driving after they wake up. Another FMCSA study revealed that driver alertness is impacted more by the time of day than time on task. Critical safety errors are most likely committed by the driver within their first hour of driving, particularly in drivers sleeping in the sleeper berth of their trucks. This results from sleep inertia, which can feature impairments such as short-term memory, vigilance, cognitive functioning, reaction time, and the ability to resist sleep.
- Certain types of medication. Many drivers understand that alcohol and illegal drugs can impair their driving. However, they often fail to consider that many prescription and over-the-counter medications—including many common types of allergy, sinus, or pain relief medications—produce the same effects.
Following Federal Trucking Regulations Will Prevent Truck Driving Fatigue
Truck driver fatigue has been a concern of traffic safety experts for a long time. Some of the FMCSA’s current regulations are in place to prevent fatigue, including the hours of service and electronic logging requirements.
Hours of Service
The FMCSA’s Hours of Service regulation defines the amount of off-duty time a truck driver must take to account for needed sleep and time away from the job. The regulation’s provisions pertain to all operators of trucks over 10,000 pounds and traveling more than 150 miles from their normal work location.
These provisions include:
- A maximum of 11 hours daily after at least ten consecutive hours of off-duty. Drivers operating in adverse conditions are allowed an additional two hours of on-duty time.
- Drivers cannot drive after they’ve been on duty for 14 consecutive hours.
- Drivers must take a 30-minute break when they have logged eight consecutive driving hours.
- Drivers cannot work more than 60 hours in a seven-day week or 70 hours in an eight-day week.
While truck drivers have long been required to track the hours they drive, the FMCSA’s requirement of electronic logs provides an easier way for those hours to be tracked. Still, it can also provide law enforcement with a quick way to determine if the driver violated federal Hours of Service requirements after a crash.
The electronic logging device (ELD) monitors a vehicle’s engine to capture data about whether the engine is running, the vehicle is moving, how many miles the truck traveled, and the number of engine hours.
You Were Injured by a Fatigued Truck Driver. Now What?
As reported by the National Safety Council, trucking accidents cause the deaths of nearly 5,000 people each year and leave another 147,000 injured. The vast majority of fatalities and injuries involve occupants of other, much smaller vehicles involved in the accident.
If you have been injured in a truck accident, one of the most important first steps to take is to receive a thorough medical evaluation in order to receive a diagnosis and begin treatment for the injuries that you incurred. This helps you have a better chance of physical recovery and provides important documentation you will need if you decide to seek compensation through a truck accident claim.
Another important task after you’ve been injured in a truck accident caused by a fatigued driver is to speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer about your legal options for seeking compensation for the expenses and impacts of your injury through a truck accident claim. The personal injury claims process generally involves filing a claim against the auto liability policy held by the at-fault truck driver or the company who owns the truck.
If the insurance provider who services this policy fails to fairly compensate the claim either by paying it outright or engaging the claimant in an out-of-court settlement agreement, it can be filed as a personal injury lawsuit so that a judge or jury can determine how much compensation is owed to the claimant as a result of the at-fault driver’s liability.
The Services a Truck Accident Attorney Can Provide
Truck accidents are commonly more difficult cases than many other motor vehicle accident claims.
Some of the issues that make the truck accident claims process more difficult include:
- An extensive amount of evidence must be evaluated and considered. Because of the federal regulations placed on the trucking industry, more information must be considered, and quick actions must be taken to preserve some of the evidence—such as ELD recordings and footage from the driver’s in-cab camera or the truck’s black box. Your attorney and their legal team know how to obtain this evidence.
- High-powered insurers and defense attorneys protect the trucking companies they serve and often use tactics to convince a claimant to accept a lower settlement than what their injuries require.
- Difficulty gathering medical documentation of the injuries or showing that there is a permanent injury that required additional compensation to account for future expenses the claimant will likely incur.
An experienced truck accident attorney can investigate the accident to determine all sources of liability and the insurance resources the liable parties have that can be used to provide compensation. The attorney’s legal team can gather the documentation needed. The attorney can also establish a value to your claim that considers factors such as the impacts on your quality of life, the presence of permanent injuries, and the severity of the injury you incurred.
Your attorney can negotiate with the insurance provider to increase the offered settlement. If necessary, you can seek compensation if you sue within your state’s statute of limitations.
This limitation is the period during which you must file a truck accident lawsuit, starting from the date of your injury, or risk losing your right to pursue compensation. If a lawsuit is filed, your attorney will participate in all pre-trial activities, including filing and responding to motions, jury selection, and preparing the presentation of your case.
After your claim has been resolved through either a negotiated settlement or a court verdict, your attorney will help you receive your compensation and settle any medical liens placed on the award by healthcare providers or insurers who covered costs and are awaiting payment.
Because personal injury lawyers typically use a contingent fee billing method, you will not be required to pay an upfront retainer. You will not be billed the hour every time work is performed on your case.
Instead, you and your attorney will enter a contingent fee agreement at the start of your claim. This agreement designates a percentage of the compensation you receive as payment for your attorney’s services. If the attorney fails to recover compensation for your claim, you do not owe them for their legal services.
The Type of Evidence that Can Prove Truck Driver Fatigue
In some accident cases involving a fatigued truck driver, the driver will make a statement at the scene to police or others that they were tired when the accident occurred. However, proving truck driver fatigue is not so simple in other cases.
Some evidence that can prove truck driver fatigue include:
- The truck’s event data recorder is called the black box” The event data recorder contains information about how the truck was operated, such as the average speed it was traveling in the hours or moments leading up to the crash, any hard braking or sudden stops, and whether the truck driver was using cruise control.
- The trucker’s electronic logging device can tell how many hours the truck has been operating since the last break taken by the driver.
- The results of the truck driver’s most recent physical health screening. Truck drivers must obtain regular physical exams to determine that they are safe enough to drive. While drivers who suffer from conditions such as sleep apnea can still operate their vehicle if their condition is successfully managed, your attorney will look for information about health conditions that could lead to fatigue and will likely want more information about the treatments the driver used for the condition.
- The results of a drug and alcohol screening performed on the driver after the accident can reveal the use of substances known to cause drowsiness.
- The police report from the accident can include information about what the driver said during the investigation, as well as the observations from eyewitnesses and details from crash experts who can analyze skid marks to determine if the driver braked before a collision.
In addition to the types of information submitted above, your attorney will also gather information to show the severity and permanence of the injuries you sustained and their impact on your quality of life to justify the value of your claim.
If you believe driver fatigue may have injured you, contact an experienced personal injury attorney in Las Vegas. These legal professionals can help compile evidence, justify your compensation claim, and ensure the at-fault party and their insurers treat you fairly.