Drunk vs. Fatigued Truck Drivers
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states that getting the statistics for accidents caused by fatigue is not possible, though it estimates that 91,000 accidents reported to police in 2017 involved fatigued drivers. Not everyone will admit to falling asleep at the wheel or to even being tired while driving. Thus, crash investigators have only their best guess if an accident involved someone who was tired or who fell asleep.
The 91,000 accidents believed to be because of fatigue caused about 50,000 injuries and killed almost 800 people. Sleep science, traffic safety, and public health communities all believe these numbers are underestimated. If you have been in an accident with a drowsy truck driver, contact a truck accident attorney.
Common Drowsy Times for Truck Drivers
Your circadian rhythm—your internal clock that regulates sleep—works just like others’ clocks. It says that you must sleep between midnight and six in the morning, and again in the late afternoon. These are the times when drivers are more likely to crash because of fatigue. Even truck drivers who may be used to driving those times will get drowsy. In many cases, a crash involving a fatigued driver happens when the driver is by himself or herself. One of the telltale signs of someone who falls asleep at the wheel is that there is no evidence of skid marks at the crash site. However, this is not always conclusive. A driver may have had a medical emergency or someone or something the driver did not see caused the driver to run off the road.
Crashes that happen at night are less likely to involve other drivers unless traffic is high. More people are likely to get hurt in a crash with a fatigued driver during the daytime because more people are traveling the roadways.
Warning Signs of Drowsy Driving
According to the CDC, 1 in 25 drivers aged 18 or older reported falling asleep while driving in the past 30 days (2013). Drivers who are more likely to fall asleep at the wheel include:
- Commercial drivers including bus drivers, tow truck drivers, and big rig drivers;
- People who work the night shift;
- People who work any shift that is longer than 8 hours;
- Those with sleep disorders such as sleep apnea; and
- Those who are on prescription medications that cause drowsiness.
- You can help reduce the chances of another drowsy driving accident by learning the warning signs. Some of these signs may also help you avoid getting hit by a drowsy driver. The signs include:
- Missing your exit;
- Yawning and/or blinking frequently;
- Drifting out of your lane;
- Having a hard time remembering the last few miles you drove; and
- Hitting the rumble strips on the side of the road.
If you hear a driver hitting the rumble strip or see someone who cannot stay in his or her own lane, get away from that driver. Drop back unless you are on the highway and must pass the drowsy driver, in which case pass with caution. It takes longer to go past a tractor-trailer than it does a passenger vehicle.
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Truckers, Fatigue, and Hours of Service
The federal hours of service regulations were put into place to keep drivers from being fatigued. However, that could backfire, because people are very different when it comes to sleep cycles. The same driver who could drive for eight hours without a problem today could have trouble driving six hours tomorrow, even if he or she got at least seven hours of sleep between trips.
The hours of service regulations try to ensure that drivers have enough time to get the proper amount of sleep, but just because they’re not in the seat, it doesn’t mean they are sleeping. A driver that is forced to pull off the road in a noisy or seedy section of town may be afraid to sleep, but because of the electronic logging device, he or she is forced to pull off instead of driving another 15 to 20 minutes to get to a safe place. That driver would be less likely to cause an accident driving 20 minutes over the eight hours than if he or she only got interrupted sleep because due to dear of being robbed.
Also, driving in minor traffic is a lot less stressful than driving in bumper-to-bumper traffic. A driver that drives for eight hours in a section of highway with light traffic is less likely to be fatigued than a driver who spends two hours stuck in traffic because of construction or an accident.
Often, truckers are not able to create their own schedule because the hours of service rules must be followed to the letter or the driver and/or the company risks getting hefty fines. In other words, a driver who feels tired after six hours should be able to stop but cannot because he or she is on a schedule and cannot drive after a certain number of hours without stopping for 10 hours. Eight of those 10 hours must be spent in the sleeper berth. If the driver doesn’t use that last two hours and takes a one-hour nap instead, the load will not get to its destination on time, which could mean the next day since the driver must stop after a specific number of hours. Drivers often have their pay docked if they cannot make a deadline.
Fatigue Management for Truck Drivers
Because each driver’s schedule and tolerance to stress and other factors that induce drowsiness is different, the hours of service may not make the roads safer. According to Trucking Info, fatigue management would make the roads safer than forcing drivers to adhere to hours of service rules. Fatigue management would teach truck drivers to mitigate drowsiness during driving times by allowing the drivers to stop for a nap when they feel tired.
Factors That Contribute to Fatigue
Several factors contribute to fatigue, and some may never affect a driver while other drivers could be much more vulnerable. These include:
- Not getting at least seven hours of rest because a driver is worried about his load, has medical or financial issues on his or her mind, or is a light sleeper and the traffic keeps the driver awake.
- Stressful situations such as sitting in traffic because of construction or an accident.
- Taking prescription medications. Specific medication may not make one driver drowsy but could make another driver drowsy even if one of the side effects is no drowsiness.
- Driving in heavy traffic.
- The stress of watching out for other drivers who are careless on the road, such as those that pass a truck and pull in front too close because they don’t realize a truck needs more space to stop.
- Sleep disorders such as sleep apnea.
- A driver whose circadian rhythm insists on kicking in right in the middle of the afternoon and hits the driver extremely hard.
- Allowing drivers to manage their time may be part of the solution because they would be able to stop and take that cat nap that keeps them alert.
Truck Accidents due to Drowsy Driving
If you are hit by a big rig, the injuries you could suffer may be worse than if you were hit by a car or light truck because of the greater size and weight of the truck. A truck accident is more likely to be deadly, again because of the size of the truck. Injuries you may suffer include:
- Catastrophic injuries including head, neck, spine, back, and brain injuries. These injuries could end up affecting you long-term or permanently. Brain injuries include concussions which could lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy later in life. Neck and spine injuries could leave you paralyzed for as little as weeks or for the rest of your life.
- Soft tissue injuries such as sprains, strains and pulled muscles. These generally heal in a few weeks. However, if you need surgery to repair any of these injuries, the injuries will take longer to heal. You also have the risk of infection because of the open wound from the surgery.
- Fractures. Some minor fractures may not need surgery but do take several weeks to heal. A compound fracture is one that breaks the skin and usually requires surgery to repair. The open wound is more susceptible to infection, which means a longer healing time.
- Minor injuries such as bruises, cuts, scrapes, and abrasions. Don’t let these fool you. Any open cut could become a serious injury if it becomes infected or if you have an underlying condition that causes it to heal slowly. Underlying conditions could include diabetes, cancer, or taking a prescription medication that lowers your white cell count.
Be sure to discuss all of your injuries with your attorney. Some long-term or permanent injuries could lead to a larger settlement or award at trial. Your attorney may have expert medical witnesses testify on your behalf if you expect your injuries to be long term or permanent.
Damages You May Be Entitled To
When you are injured in an accident, you may be entitled to damages if the accident was not your fault. Even if it is deemed that you were partially at fault, you may be entitled to a percentage of damages, which can include economic, non-economic, and punitive damages.
These types of damages are those with a price tag attached to them. They include:
- Medical expenses related to the accident.
- Lost wages for the time you were not able to work because of the accident.
- Future medical expenses including additional surgeries, therapy, and followup doctors’ appointments. These could also be considered non-economic damages because the amount is unknown, therefore estimated.
- Future lost wages if you are not able to work due to long-term or permanent injuries. These could also be considered non-economic damages because they are estimated.
- Personal property replacement or repair. Your vehicle and personal items in the vehicle or real estate that may have been damaged are replaced or repaired.
Non-Economic Truck Accident Damages
These types of damages do not have a fixed dollar cost and are estimated by insurance companies and attorneys. They may include:
- Pain and suffering if you suffer from long-term or permanent injuries.
- Loss of companionship if you are unable to participate in family activities including taking your children to extracurricular activities and family outings.
- Inconvenience if you are unable to perform the tasks around your home and must pay for someone else to do them. Tasks may include cooking, cleaning, mowing the yard and other home maintenance activities.
- Loss of consortium if you are unable to have a physical relationship with your spouse.
- Loss of a limb if you lose the use of one or more limbs because of the accident.
Punitive Truck Accident Damages
The third type of damages you may be entitled to is punitive damages, which are only awarded if the at-fault driver is grossly negligent. In some cases, the company the driver worked for may have encouraged negligence. In this case, the company may have to pay punitive damages, either in addition to what the driver pays or in the place of what the driver would pay.
Seek an Experienced Semi-Truck Accident Attorney
If you believe that you may be entitled to damages, you should always seek the help of a truck accident lawyer. Because so many entities may be involved in a truck accident, the case is often quite complicated. In addition to the driver that may be responsible, the company the driver works for, the truck owner, the dispatcher and even the manufacturer of the cargo may be liable for some or all of the damages that you may be entitled to.
Each entity will most likely have his or her own attorney. As an example, a driver who works as an independent contractor and is driving for Company A will have his own attorney. The driver’s insurance company will also have an attorney. Since the driver leases the truck, the owner of the truck will have an attorney, as well as the owner’s insurance company. And, the company the driver is hauling for will have an attorney, as well as the company’s insurance company.
If you are in a truck accident or you lost a loved one in a truck accident, contact an experienced attorney can answer any additional questions you might have.