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Articles Posted in Driver Fatigue

A recent collision on Business 80 in Sacramento was only the latest in a rash of California highway wrong-way driver crashes — some of them deadly — that have occurred in recent months. Fortunately, this incident only resulted in “moderate” injuries to the wrong-way driver himself. The driver of the big rig that he hit was not injured. Unfortunately, this was not the case in a wrong-way crash in Long Beach that killed one driver and critically injured two other people.  Nor was it the case in a May collision on Interstate 80 in Sacramento that killed three people, a May crash on Highway 50 in Sacramento that killed four, or a January collision on Interstate 80 in Sacramento that killed three people.

A common factor in many wrong-way crashes is alcohol use.  The drivers in these incidents are frequently confused by highway on-ramps and off-ramps, entering against traffic on the off-ramps.  They are then frequently found to be driving against traffic in the left-hand fast lanes, thinking instead that they are “safely” driving in the correct direction in the right-hand slow lanes.  These accidents are most common at night, and the sudden appearance of the wrong-way driver in front of the right-way drivers — with combined closing speeds well over 100 mph — leaves other drivers with very, very little time to react.  The high combined closing speed also adds to the severity of the impacts that result.

Studies have also found that a large percentage of wrong-way highway collisions occur from intentional, illegal U-turns, and that the peak time of day for wrong-way collisions in California is between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. — not coincidentally, the hour immediately after bars are required to close.

The data accumulated by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) indicates that drowsy drivers are just as dangerous as drivers who are drunk behind the wheel.  In fact, the accidents caused by drowsy driving are on average more severe than drunk driving incidents due to the simple fact that most accidents caused by drowsy drivers happen at high speeds on the freeway – the dreaded “highway hypnosis.” Additionally, because the driver is nearly asleep, often no effort to avoid the collision such as swerving or braking will occur prior to impact.

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Clearly, drowsy driving is a more difficult problem to prevent, as there are no checkpoints to evaluate drivers for sleepiness and driving while tired is not criminal activity.  Even among peers, while it may be expected to take a friend’s keys if they have had a few drinks and want to drive home, a yawn will usually not elicit the same level of concern and intervention.  Accordingly, it is dependent upon the driver to be aware of his or her level of alertness.  Yawning, heavy eyelids and slower thought processes are all warning signs to rest before getting behind the wheel.

elderly
There are unique challenges when representing elderly clients in personal injury cases.  Sometimes the injuries suffered in the subject event are discounted by doctors, insurance adjusters and opposing counsel.  Let’s look at the issue of scarring…is if fair that a scar on the body or face of an older individual may be deemed as “worth less” than scarring to a younger person?  The older person may have just as much pride in his or her appearance, and therefore scarring should not be discounted as a damage claim solely due to the age of the claimant.

One area where damages may be legitimately reduced is loss of earning capacity.  The average life expectancy of a plaintiff is used to calculate future wage loss, and obviously an senior citizen is going to have fewer years remaining to earn money than a younger person.  Often an older plaintiff is already retired, significantly reducing this area of economic damage. However, a skilled plaintiff attorney may be able to spin the retirement angle into a compelling argument about how greatly the plaintiff’s “golden years” have been affected by the pain, suffering, anxiety and inconvenience that he or she is dealing with as a result of accident-related injuries.  The plaintiff has worked hard his or her whole life with the expectation of enjoying their post-work life, and any disruption of that enjoyment could be construed as being especially valuable.

Elderly people may experience more serious injuries than younger people due to degenerative conditions, arthritis or osteoporosis.  Additionally, healing time may be longer and treatment may be prolonged.  All of these scenarios could be argued persuasively to increase the “pain and suffering” damages involved with the elderly person’s claim.

Driver Fatigue

Driver fatigue is a well-recognized cause of motor vehicle accidents, injuries, and fatalities. Most often we probably think of long-haul truckers and graveyard-shift workers when the term “driver fatigue” comes up, but there is a twice per year ritual that apparently exposes all of us to an increased risk of vehicle crashes due to driver fatigue. Simply put, daylight saving time kills.daylight saving time kills

History

bus
It is often said that riding a bus is one of the safest modes of transportation.  However, obviously no road travel is without any risk, and accidents do happen.  When a bus does crash, it will likely make the evening news due to the number of injuries that could be involved.  Not only does the bus have the capacity to carry a large number of people, but most of the time there are no seat belts.  In recent years, this combination has resulted in a few catastrophic scenes.

Another factor that comes into play when considering the risks of bus travel is that buses are used for long-distance travel – think vacation tours or musicians on the road.  This can often lead to driver fatigue, a frequent cause of bus accidents.

Vehicles that share the road with buses should give them space, and be careful not to be within the driver’s blind spot.  It is not a mystery which vehicle will come out ahead in a bus vs. passenger automobile collision.  A quick internet search will provide pictures of smaller vehicles actually wedged underneath a bus carriage – a horrifying possibility, but extra caution should always be taken when driving near extremely large vehicles.

A recent case in Sacramento involved a bicyclist traveling in an industrial area who was struck and killed by a truck at 5:15 AM on Florin Perkins Road. Newspapers and police immediately

opined that the bicyclist must be at fault because she was riding in the early morning and her bike should have had more reflectors. Such rushes to judgment are frequent. They are often also

inaccurate.

Truck driver fatigue  is,  and has been an issue in many  fatal accidents . It is believed to have accounted for approximately ten percent of all fatal car crashes between 2009 and 2011. The safety of commercial drivers deteriorates easily when fatigue is a factor. These drivers have long hours driving trucks and their  work schedules  are irregular. To stay safe, many truck drivers take adequate  off-duty time and frequent short rest breaks while driving.

One study looked at impacts of off-duty time as well as  and short rest breaks on the safety of commercial truck driving. They found that when a driver increased the total rest break time, there were fewer truck-related crashes due to fatigue. In the same way, having more rest breaks helped reduce the number of fatigue-related crashes. Two rest breaks seem adequate in a ten hour trip. More rest breaks don’t seem to add to safety. The duration of the rest break should be about 30 minutes. The rest breaks shouldn’t be too soon after starting the trip because such  breaks would be less effective.

Rest time and scheduled breaks  improve truck driver and road safety.

The trucking industry has been concerned about obstructive sleep apnea in commercial driver for many decades. With sleep apnea, the trucker gets poor sleep that can affect their ability to drive safely. This leads to an increase in truck accidents, which can be fatal. Combine poor sleep, long driving times and short sleep times and you get accidents. Drivers are required to have a physical every two years to stay certified. Examiners are now encouraged to do a sleep study on these drivers to rule out obstructive sleep apnea. There are also written score tests that can help define who needs a sleep study and who does not.

Commercial driving is a hazardous job, having the third highest rate of fatality among jobs in the US.  The prevalence of obstructive sleep apnea among US commercial truck drivers is estimated to be 17-28 percent. Unfortunately, screening for this disorder is not mandated by US law. The researchers provide the reader with an evidence-based screening tool that can help define who needs further screening. Such screening testing led to an increase in the identification of commercial drivers who could then be treated for the disorder.

I’m Ed Smith, a Sacramento Trucking Injury Attorney with the primary accident information site on the web, www.AutoAccident.com. If you or someone you love has been in a trucking accident, call me now at 916-921-6400.   You can find out more about our office by looking at either Yelp or on Avvo, the attorney rating site.

Sleepiness is just as risky to a driver as is drinking and driving. Bring sleepy is dangerous to the driver and to the other people driving, biking or walking on the road. Just like alcohol, being sleepy slows the driver’s reaction time, decreases one’ awareness of one’s surroundings, increases the risk of having an accident, and impairs one’s judgment.header3

Investigators find it impossible to prove with certainty that an accident was caused by sleepy driving, especially in a fatality; however, there are several clues to look for at the scene of the crash that can tell the investigators that sleep was a factor. For example, if only one vehicle was involved, if the injuries are fatal or if there is suspicious lack of evasive maneuvers or skid marks.

In alcohol-related collisions, at least there can be blood or breath testing to show causality; in sleep-related crashes, no such objective test exists and police officers must make an educated guess as t0 what caused the crash. There are several definitions of the term sleepy. Common terms are drowsy, tired or exhausted; even “sleep-deprived’ can be a proper term.

High deck buses are automatically at a greater risk of serious injuries to passengers because they have a high center of gravity and can tip over when making turns or curves at elevated speeds. These vehicles have a greater chance of causing serious and often fatal accidents. It is too easy for the drivers of high-deck buses to lose control of these vehicles.

trucks.freewayThese are often caused by drivers who are fatigued from driving long distances. There are other risk factors to having a serious high-deck bus accident. These factors include drivers and passengers not wearing a seat belt. There can be drunk driving, reckless driving with the majority of accidents occurring between 12 am and dawn. Exchange ramps on freeways are particularly dangerous because of the curve involved and the speeds involved.

There have been safety policies put into effect in order to make long distance driving with high-deck buses safer to ride in. These include restricting the time the driver gets to drive and having mandatory rest breaks, putting in sleep-warning devices in the bus, and having drivers with obstructive sleep apnea be evaluated and treated for their disorder before being allowed to drive. In addition, passengers and drivers should be allowed to wear seatbelts. Seatbelts should be able to limit the seriousness of injury and reduce the chances of being ejected from the bus.

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