While most motorists already know about the risks of driving under the influence, another form of unsafe driving behavior is less understood: drowsy driving. Drowsy or fatigued driving by any driver can substantially increase the risk of an accident.
Unfortunately, thanks to the size and weight of the commercial vehicles they operate, truck driver fatigue can increase the risk of serious injury. Worse, all too many truck drivers feel they must push through their fatigue to deliver the goods entrusted to their care by tight and sometimes unrealistic deadlines.
Both truck drivers and their employers should take vital steps to avoid the risks associated with fatigued driving. When they don’t, they may bear liability for the accidents and injuries they cause.
What Causes Truck Driver Fatigue?
Obviously, getting behind the wheel without adequate sleep can quickly leave a truck driver feeling drowsy behind the wheel. Driving for too long without a break can also increase the risk of fatigue. Truck drivers can legally drive for 11 consecutive hours after at least 10 consecutive hours spent somewhere other than behind the wheel of their trucks. Unfortunately, even with adherence to those legal regulations, truck drivers can still experience fatigue, especially by the end of their shifts.
Other elements can also increase the odds of driver fatigue.
Illness. A truck driver’s body naturally craves rest after falling ill. Many illnesses, ranging from the common cold or flu to more serious infections, can leave the driver desperately craving sleep. Unfortunately, a truck driver’s schedule may not allow for necessary rest breaks throughout the day, leading to increased fatigue.
Medication use. In addition to illness causing driver fatigue, many medications have the side effect of inducing sleepiness. This, in turn, can increase the risk of an accident.
Inebriation. Fifty percent of truckers around the world admit to alcohol use. Even more truck drivers drink in the United States, which had the highest rate of blood alcohol content when truck drivers faced tests. Inebriation, including inebriation due to both drug and alcohol use, can increase the risk of fatigue behind the wheel.
Working unusual shifts. Truck drivers often continue driving no matter the hour, especially if they can trade off with another driver to help get their cargo to its destination on time. Unfortunately, this may also mean that truck drivers drive outside the hours when their body normally maintains awareness. Some people can never fully adjust to staying awake at night and sleeping during the day. Others may struggle primarily when they need to make the transition to driving during a different shift.
Most truck drivers get paid by the mile, not by the amount of time they spend behind the wheel or away from their homes and families. As a result, many of them will choose to continue driving even as fatigue sets in. They may also feel immense pressure to meet unrealistic deadlines.
The Effects of Truck Driver Fatigue
Driver fatigue can quickly cause problems. Unfortunately, as many as one in 25 drivers admit to falling asleep behind the wheel within the last month. Sleeping drivers clearly cannot control their vehicles properly, and, as a result, they may cause severe accidents before they wake and can stop the moving vehicle.
Unfortunately, simply driving while fatigued can cause as many problems for truck drivers as driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. In fact, it has a similar effect on the brain. Driving after remaining awake for more than 24 hours has a similar effect as driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.10.
For reference, the legal limit remains at 0.08 percent in most states, except Utah, where it’s 0.05 percent. And for truckers, it’s 0.04 percent.
Drowsy drivers often find it hard to pay attention to the road. When truck drivers grow drowsy behind the wheel, they may have trouble keeping track of what happens on the road around them.
For some truck drivers, that may mean not responding fast enough when another vehicle pulls over in front of them, because they simply fail to note its presence. For others, that may mean failing to recognize the presence of a car sitting in one of those large blind spots. Still others may not notice changes in traffic patterns, including changing speed limits or traffic lights.
Truck drivers already operate big vehicles with large blind spots. They take up more space on the road and require more room to stop and maneuver. Failing to see what happens around them can significantly increase the risk that truck drivers will cause a serious accident.
Drowsy drivers often suffer a decrease in their reflexes. Drivers, especially truck drivers, need sharp reflexes so they can react quickly to hazards on the road and avoid accidents. Unfortunately, drowsy drivers, like drunk drivers, may lose the reflexes to react quickly to a hazard. If a car swerves in traffic or suffers a tire blowout, the truck driver might lack the ability to react appropriately. Fatigued truck drivers may worsen an accident near them because they cannot respond fast enough to keep the truck clear of the accident scene.
Drowsy drivers often struggle to make sound, swift decisions. Driving calls on the person behind the wheel to make fast decisions to keep everyone on the road safe. Drivers must decide when to change lanes, what speed to maintain, or how to respond when approaching a changing traffic light. Not only that, they must make fast decisions and judgment calls in the face of a potential accident.
Unfortunately, fatigued truck drivers may lack the ability to make those decisions effectively.
Imagine, for example, that a truck driver knows that he needs to change lanes in a couple of miles to make his exit.
An alert truck driver may judge traffic and decide to move into the appropriate lane as soon as he has enough space to do so. He has the experience to judge how much space he needs, checks his blind spots, and changes lanes without a problem.
A fatigued truck driver, on the other hand, may not remember that he needs to change lanes until the last minute. Then he rushes to get over in time to make his exit. If he misjudges the space between vehicles, he could cause a serious accident.
What Four Steps Should You Take Following a Drowsy Driving Accident With a Truck Driver?
Following an accident, you may have no idea whether the driver who hit you suffered from fatigue. Nothing wakes up a drowsy driver quite like a severe accident, after all. The steps you take after any truck accident, however, can help protect your finances and your overall health and wellbeing following a severe accident.
Step One: Report the Accident
If you suffered injuries in a truck accident, report the accident immediately. A call to 911 will summon both police and medical professionals to the scene, providing you with vital support and a record of the accident. The police will take down information such as the truck driver’s employer, license number, and insurance. Never leave the scene of an accident other than to seek immediate medical care.
Step Two: Seek Medical Care
Big trucks can mean big injuries when an accident occurs. Seeking medical care now will get you much-needed treatment for your most urgent injuries, and allows you to discover less-obvious injuries sooner. This is important, because adrenaline can mask the pain from even severe injuries in the immediate aftermath of the accident. The soreness that commonly sets in hours after the accident, or even a few days later, could signal serious damage.
Seeking medical care also provides you with a record of precisely when your injuries occurred. To avoid bearing financial liability for your accident, some truckers’ insurance companies may suggest that you suffered your injuries at another time. Your immediate trip to an emergency room or urgent care facility, on the other hand, can establish exactly when your injuries occurred.
Seeking appropriate medical treatment does not end with going to the hospital after an accident. You should listen carefully to your doctor’s recommendations and keep up with all treatment protocols, both immediately after the accident and in the days and weeks that follow. Keeping up with your medical care gives you the best chance of making a full physical recovery and strengthens your legal claim by proving that you have done your part to move as far forward in your recovery as possible.
Step Three: Notify Your Insurance Companies
Following a serious accident, notifying your insurance company of the circumstances of the accident can help streamline payment. Keep in mind, however, that insurance companies (even your own) have their own best interests at heart when it comes to paying out claims, so consult your attorney before engaging in any communication with an insurer. Your attorney may prefer to handle insurance the companies for you.
If you require medical treatment after an accident, you may also need to contact your health insurance company, if you have one, to provide information about your accident. Many insurance companies will deny claims for serious injuries if they do not have information about how the accident occurred. Some procedures may require pre-approval before an insurer will provide coverage or reimbursement.
Important information you may require could include:
What your insurance company will cover toward durable medical equipment, including crutches, braces, and wheelchairs.
How much coverage your insurance company will offer for physical therapy. Some insurance companies will limit the number of sessions they pay for per calendar year.
What copays and deductibles you can expect for different types of services.
Your attorney is a valuable ally in understanding how best to manage your care and insurance following an accident.
Step Four: Work With Your Truck Accident Attorney
Any time you suffer serious injuries in an accident, contact an attorney as soon as possible. An experienced truck accident lawyer will understand the difficulty you face as a result of your accident and your injuries, and can get you the compensation you deserve following a serious accident with a fatigued truck driver.
To help you obtain the compensation you require, a truck accident attorney can investigate both the truck driver and the trucking company. Often, those investigations can uncover signs of a fatigued driver—a driver required to drive too many hours over too few days, a company that regularly pushes its drivers to meet unrealistic deadlines, or a logbook that shows the driver exceeded the federal limits for how long he could spend behind the wheel, for example.
Most truck accident attorneys accept cases on a contingency fee basis. This means the client owes nothing in attorneys’ fees unless you achieve a successful settlement or judgment.
A truck accident attorney’s assistance can also mean peace of mind and far less stress. A truck accident attorney can take over negotiating with the truck driver’s insurance company. This prevents you from accepting an offer that does not cover your medical bills and other expenses after a serious accident, and allows you to focus on what really matters: your recovery.