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Big Rig Truck Driver Fatigue — Part One

A Problem We All Experience is a Serious Danger for Some

Working while tired is a near universal experience, but truck driver fatigue is a serious danger. Who hasn’t shown up for work on a Monday morning a little extra tired from an overly busy weekend — maybe one with a little too much partying? Who hasn’t put in some overtime on an important project that just has to get completed today or to cover for a co-worker who called in sick? But being tired at work isn’t a particular danger for most of us — we might be a little slow at getting that document typed up or yawning a bit while greeting customers, but we’re not at special danger of seriously injuring ourselves or others because we’re a bit too sleepy.

That is very much not the case with people who work in an environment with potentially dangerous equipment and machinery that must be operated with care and precision even when they’re fully awake and rested — construction workers, commercial vehicle drivers, industrial workers, etc. Something as simple as big rig driver fatigue poses serious dangers to the drivers and to other people in their vicinity. Skilled and experienced personal injury lawyers are fully aware that fatigue is a frequent cause of injuries and fatalities from motor vehicle accidents in general, but especially among commercial drivers who often face significant pressures to stay on the road longer than they ought to.

Bus and Big Rig Truck Driver Fatigue is a Societal Problem

Truck drivers are part of the visible “tip of the iceberg” of a fatigue problem that negatively impacts far more people in our society than just those in their profession. When they “fall asleep on the job,” the consequences can be devastating. As long ago as the 1930s, safety organizations such as the National Safety Council recognized that “tired and sleepy drivers” were a frequent cause of motor vehicle accidents and that big rig driver fatigue presented a particular problem noting that, “‘Fatigued’ or ‘asleep’ accidents are more likely to occur to 18-wheeler drivers than to those of private passenger cars.”

The National Sleep Foundation classifies three different types of sleep problems:

  • Acute sleep deprivation, which occurs over a relatively short period of time of a few days or less.
  • Chronic sleep deprivatation, or “insufficient sleep syndrome” occuring over three months or longer.
  • Chronic sleep deficiency, which includes both chronic sleep deprivation and “poor sleep” that can result from recurring sleep interruption or “sleep fragmentation.”

The effects of sleep deprivation or deficiency are ones that we’re all familiar with:

  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Thinking slowly
  • Poor memory
  • Attention span limitation
  • Faulty decision making
  • Lack of energy
  • Moodiness and anxiety

The Seriousness of Truck Driver Fatigue

Put someone behind the wheel of a 40-ton tractor-trailer rig traveling at highway speeds, and the dangers of slowed thinking, faulty attention span, and poor decision-making become rapidly obvious. The National Safety Council notes that the effects of fatigue and sleepiness on driving are similar to the effects of driving while intoxicated:

  • Sustained attention, hazard awareness, and reaction times are all diminished and worsen in proportion to the fatigue level.
  • Driving after not having slept in the prior 20 hours is equivalent in physical and mental impacts to driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.08% — the legal limit in most U.S. states.
  • A driver — professional or not — is three times as likely to be involved in a car accident when fatigued.

Despite long understanding that fatigued driving was a particular problem with semi-truck drivers (as noted in the 1935 NSC report we mentioned above), it wasn’t seriously addressed by regulatory agencies until the 1990s, with the first National Truck and Bus Safety Summit that was held in 1995 and has been recurring since then. Significant requirements for limiting and monitoring commercial driver “hours of service” were adopted and updated several times since then.

Commercial Driver Fatigue and Personal Injury Claims

Driving while fatigued or sleepy is a frequent cause or factor in a great many motor vehicle collisions. While law enforcement officers will certainly note on traffic collision reports if fatigue or sleepiness appears to be involved in an accident, they’re frequently not in a position to know for certain — once an accident happens, the involved drivers may be either jolted with adrenaline from the experience or too focused on their individual injuries to report that they were fatigued. And just as with driving while intoxicated, most drivers aren’t likely to volunteer the information that they were driving while sleepy. A skilled personal injury lawyer will understand just how frequently truck driver fatigue contributes to causing accidents and will have the knowledge and resources to investigate for evidence of that fatigue — paper and electronic logs kept by the driver, electronic driving time data carried on the vehicle and/or transmitted to the trucking company, long-term records of driving time policies and practices for the driver and their employer.

View this video from ABC News highlighting the dangers and costs of driving while sleepy:

California Truck Accident Lawyer

Hello, I’m Ed Smith, a California Truck Accident Lawyer.  Personal injury attorneys who have experience in handling truck accident cases understand that fatigue and sleepiness are either the cause or a contributing factor in a large portion of truck accidents and other commercial vehicle accidents.  Understanding that this is the case puts the personal injury lawyer in a better position to represent clients in truck accident injury claims by highlighting the importance of evidence that points toward drivers and trucking companies that ignore the danger of truck driver fatigue.  Finding this evidence can be crucial in successfully resolving an injury claim or lawsuit.  If you or a family member has sustained a serious injury due to negligence of a commercial truck driver, please contact us today at (916) 921-6400 or toll-free at (800) 404-5400 for free, friendly advice. You can also reach us through our online contact form.

We are proud to be members of the National Association of Distinguished Counsel and the Million Dollar Advocates Forum.

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