Truck drivers play a vital role in our economy. When we buy everyday items like groceries and dinner plates, appliances like toasters and coffee makers, and our favorite gadgets and luxury items, they arrive at a store or warehouse via — you guessed it — a truck.
As a result, truck drivers are under pressure to make multiple deliveries in a working day, and long hours on the road take their toll. Add to that the fact that trucks are large, heavy, and hard to maneuver, and any even slight fatigue can lead to a devastating accident.
But how many truck accidents are caused by driver fatigue, and how do these accidents happen? We look at the laws that prevent driver fatigue accidents and what to do if you’re in a truck accident caused by driver fatigue.
What Causes Driver Fatigue?
Trucking is a high-pressure job. If a truck driver is running behind on a delivery, it has a knock-on effect not just on that one company waiting for a delivery but also on the next delivery, the delivery after that, and so on. If any of these companies is dissatisfied with the service they’ve received, the trucking company can lose business. As a result, truck drivers often bear the brunt of pressure from their employers.
Such pressure can result in long days and demanding schedules, with many nights spent on the road so that drivers can get back to work early in the morning.
Getting poor-quality sleep can leave drivers tired and slower to react, which increases the risk of a driver fatigue accident.
However, a bad night’s sleep isn’t the only cause.
Some of the other common causes of driver fatigue include:
- Illness: We’ve all been sick at some point in our lives. Even when we only have a slight cold, it can be a trudge to get to work only to spend the entire day feeling drained and craving your bed. Feeling tired is a normal response to illness, as the body is busy fighting off a virus or infection, leaving little energy for anything else.
- Medication use: Many medications can induce sleepiness, from over-the-counter antihistamines to prescription pain relief.
- Intoxication: Alcohol and some drugs are depressants which slow the messages from the brain to the body to induce feelings of relaxation. This means they also reduce coordination and make users drowsy. Concerningly, 50% of truck drivers worldwide admit to alcohol use.
- Irregular shift patterns: Trucks are on Texas roads day and night, so many truck drivers will experience irregular shift patterns where they’re driving during the day one week and driving nights the next. Rapidly changing shifts disrupt the body’s internal clock and can be a real shock to the system. As a result, tiredness can set in suddenly, increasing the risk of a driver fatigue accident. This is only exacerbated by constantly changing sleep patterns, where a driver may not be able to fall asleep when they need to.
How Common Are Truck Accidents Caused by Driver Fatigue?
Just how common are driver fatigue accidents? Here are the key stats:
At a country-wide level:
- One in 25 drivers admit to falling asleep behind the wheel
- 13% of commercial truck drivers are fatigued at the time of a crash
- Commercial truck drivers are more likely to drive while fatigued than other drivers.
In Texas, 7,527 crashes occurred in 2020, where driver fatigue was listed as the primary contributing factor.
But is that the whole story?
Driver fatigue could be a factor in many more accidents than reported.
We know that driving while fatigued can cause symptoms similar to those seen in individuals who drive while intoxicated. Going without sleep for 24 hours is akin to a drunk person getting behind the wheel with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.10%.
For reference, the legal limit for most drivers is 0.08%. For truck drivers, the legal limit drops to 0.05%. This means that sleep-deprived truckers could be operating at an impairment level twice the legal limit.
So what does this level of impairment look like on the road?
Driving while fatigued naturally slows response and reflexes. That’s a problem, as truck drivers need quick reflexes to react to hazards on the road, especially since trucks take longer to stop.
If a car swerves to avoid a hazard or because of a blown tire, the truck driver behind might not be able to react in time, making any impact worse.
Truck drivers also know when to change lanes while being mindful of speed, space, and blind spots. However, a fatigued driver might misjudge the space or fail to check their blind spots, resulting in a potentially fatal crash.
Fatigued drivers also aren’t immune to making other mistakes on the road, such as checking their cell phone or turning on the radio and blasting music to stay alert.
It’s easy to see how any of these other factors — driver inattention, changing lanes when it’s unsafe, cell phone use, and driving while distracted — could be determined as the primary cause of the crash, even if driver fatigue also played a role.
What Rules Are in Place to Prevent Driver Fatigue Accidents?
American truck drivers clock a lot of hours — far more than the normal nine-to-five — but federal driving guidelines and work-hour restrictions exist to prevent driver fatigue accidents.
Commercial truck drivers can drive for a maximum of 11 hours after at least 10 consecutive hours spent somewhere other than behind the wheel, but they cannot work past the 14th consecutive hour after returning to duty.
So why do so many driver fatigue accidents still happen?
Unfortunately, some truck drivers don’t adhere to these guidelines.
We’ve already mentioned that truck drivers are under enormous pressure to meet often unrealistic deadlines. Many also get paid by the mile, not how long they’ve been on the road, so they may continue to drive past the point of exhaustion to clock more miles, make more deliveries, and get home to their families sooner.
There’s also the fact that fatigue affects everyone differently and can vary day by day depending on sleep quality.
A truck driver may adhere to all the guidelines and get a good night’s sleep yet still feel fatigued. Sadly, it only takes a moment for any driver to take their eyes off the road for a devastating accident to happen — and driver fatigue may well be the primary cause.
What to Do if You’re in a Truck Accident Caused by Driver Fatigue
If you’re in an accident caused by driver fatigue, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries.
After seeking medical attention, your first step should be to contact a truck accident lawyer. Truck accident compensation claims can be complex, and multiple parties may be liable. Truck drivers are responsible for safely operating their vehicles, which extends to getting off the road when they are drowsy. If they fail to do this and cause an accident, they may be liable.
However, others may be at fault too. If the driver is employed by the trucking company, the trucking company can be responsible if they pressured their drivers into working longer shifts than allowed.
Our compassionate and experienced truck accident lawyers in San Antonio and McAllen will look at your case to determine how much compensation you’re entitled to. We’ll also gather evidence of negligence — whether by the driver, trucking company, or both — and begin the process of recovering the compensation you deserve.
If you’re in a driver fatigue accident, you don’t have to suffer alone. You could be entitled to significant compensation to cover your lost wages and medical costs. Get a free, no-obligation case review with our Texas personal injury lawyers today and see how much compensation you could receive.