The Dangers of Truck Driver Fatigue

Fatigue in truck drivers can be deadly. Too often, truck drivers work long hours and become drowsy while behind the wheel. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Large Truck Crash Causation Study closely examined almost 1,000 crashes involving trucks that caused a fatality or injury. The study discovered that truck driver fatigue was linked to 13% of such accidents.

Life-Changing Incidents

Driving while tired is always dangerous. Almost 800 people were killed in 2017 because of drowsy driving, according to U.S. government data. But accidents involving fatigued truck drivers are particularly dangerous because of the size and weight of their vehicles. A high-speed impact with a truck can be devastating to a car or smaller vehicle, posing a life-threatening risk to the driver inside.

Truck driver fatigue has been responsible for several notorious accidents in recent years. In June 2014, the actor and comedian Tracy Morgan was seriously injured when a fatigued truck driver plowed into a limo van that was carrying him and several other people in New Jersey. Jordan’s friend James McNair was killed in the crash.

Causes of Crashes

Serious accidents involving tired truck drivers all have one factor in common, according to National Traffic Safety Board vice-chairman Bruce Landsberg: The drivers involved were all “positive that it was just going to be another routine trip.”

According to transportation analysts, some accidents are caused when truck drivers are eager to finish a job, and mistakenly believe that they can handle a little drowsiness. In other cases, trucking companies try to maximize driving time in order to increase their profitability. This may lead managers to pressure their drivers to remain on the road even when they are too tired to drive safely.

Rules of the Road

In most states, regulations limit the time truck drivers can be behind the wheel. These restrictions are designed to prevent deadly accidents by threatening penalties for tired drivers who may be tempted to continue driving.

The federal government also imposes rules on drivers who are involved in interstate commerce. Drivers are allowed to drive for up to 11 hours during a period of 14 consecutive hours after they have been off duty for 10 consecutive hours. After the 14-hour period is complete, drivers must stop again for another 10 hours. The government also mandates break periods and imposes a limit on the total number of hours driven per week.

Staying Alert

Experts advise that there are several steps truck drivers can take to avoid fatigued driving:

  • Get a good night’s sleep before starting a shift. Maintaining a healthy diet and avoiding too much caffeine can also improve sleep patterns;
  • When feeling drowsy, pull into a rest stop, and take a nap. Merely opening a window and increasing the radio volume will not be enough to prevent tiredness;
  • Avoid any medication that could cause drowsiness or interfere with controlling a large vehicle;
  • Install a vehicle safety system that delivers an audible warning or physical vibration when it detects that a truck is drifting across the roadway.

Legal Options

If you or a loved one have been injured or killed in a vehicle accident involving a fatigued truck driver, you may be entitled to compensation. An attorney can help you to review your legal options. A lawsuit against the driver’s employer may secure you financial damages if the company is found to have acted recklessly or breached regulations. This compensation could be crucial in helping you to pay medical bills or to cover the cost of taking time off work.

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