Driver fatigue a leading cause of truck accidents

Fatigued truckers cause serious truck accidents many times each year.

According to data provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an estimated 95,000 injuries and nearly 4,000 fatalities occurred as a result of accidents involving large trucks in 2013 alone (the most recent year for which such data has been finalized and made public). The great majority of those killed – 72 percent – were occupants not of the trucks themselves, but of smaller cars, trucks and SUVs involved in crashes with much-larger commercial vehicles.

There are many and varied causes of truck accidents, including distracted driving, driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, inadequate rig or trailer maintenance and speeding to name a few, but perhaps none of them is as dangerous – or as underreported – as driving while fatigued. The NHTSA reports that around 850 people per year die in fatigue-related accidents, but they acknowledge that, since there is no standardized test for driver sleepiness, and most drivers are reluctant to admit that they nodded off behind the wheel and caused an accident, their estimates could be woefully inadequate. Some experts estimate that the real number of drowsy driving accident fatalities could be four or even five times as many as current figures indicate.

Numerous research studies have shown that driving while fatigued causes slowed reaction times, poor decision-making, lack of concentration and other impairments akin to drunk driving. In fact, the National Sleep Foundation reports that being awake for 18 hours before climbing behind the wheel is the equivalent of having a .5 BAC; being awake for 24 hours is akin to a .10 BAC, which is more than the legal limit of intoxication in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.

The bigger the vehicle, the bigger the risk

If you ride a bicycle while fatigued, you could fall asleep and hurt yourself. You could tip the bike over after riding into a pothole, hit a curb and fall off or ride into a wall or tree, possibly resulting in a broken bone, minor concussion or other injury. If, however, you drift off or “zone out” while operating an 80,000 pound, fully loaded commercial truck at highway speeds, you could easily kill yourself or someone else if you rear-end another vehicle, strike a stationary object (like a power pole or bridge abutment) or cross the center line into oncoming traffic.

Because of their sedentary lifestyle, truck drivers are often at risk for sleep disorders and they are also prone to keeping odd hours in an attempt to drive longer and make more deliveries: both of these have been proven to dramatically increase the likelihood of driver fatigue. Legislation has been passed in recent years in the form of updates to driver hours-of-service regulations in an attempt to make the highways safer for those of us sharing the road with these huge trucks, but many argue that they don’t do enough. There are also proposals to require mandatory electronic log records and breaks for truck drivers, but they face steep opposition from truck industry lobbying groups. Sadly, it is likely that fatigue-related accidents will continue until stricter laws are passed to regulate the trucking industry.

If you have been injured – or someone you love has tragically lost their life – because of the negligent actions of a truck driver, trucking company or equipment manufacturer, you may be able to bring a claim for compensation to recover damages related to the crash. No amount of money is ever enough to make up for the loss of someone’s life, but a settlement or verdict can at least cover medical expenses, lost wages, property damage and other related costs. For more information about your legal rights following a truck accident, contact the experienced personal injury attorneys at the San Antonio-based Law Offices of Tyler and Peery. Call them at 210-340-0900 or send them an email today to schedule a free initial case evaluation.