Personal Injury Lawyers Jonesboro, Arkansas

The Impact of Truck Driver Fatigue on Road Safety

Tired truck drivers can have a devastating impact on other road users

Operating a vehicle safely requires the driver to be alert and attentive at all times. That’s true for any vehicle, but it’s especially true for semi-trucks and other heavy commercial vehicles. Big trucks have long stopping distances and big blind spots. They make wide turns. They require careful maneuvering and gentle braking for the trucker to remain in control of the vehicle. Fatigued drivers can’t do all that effectively, and that makes them dangerous.

That’s why federal regulations require truck drivers to take rest breaks: to ensure they’re alert and awake whenever they're behind the wheel. Unfortunately, those laws aren’t always followed, and the consequences can be devastating. In Arkansas, our experienced truck accident lawyers work hard to hold fatigued and dangerous truckers accountable.

How does fatigue cause truck accidents?

Driving while tired has similar effects to driving while intoxicated. Indeed, research has shown that driving on five or fewer hours of sleep is just as dangerous as driving drunk. Fatigue has numerous effects on a trucker’s ability to safely operate the vehicle, including:

  • Slower response time, which is especially dangerous for truck drivers because trucks have a long stopping distance and need to make turns slowly,
  • Impaired judgment, which makes it more difficult for truckers to make safe decisions behind the wheel, and
  • Lapses in attention, which increase the risk of a trucker missing something in a bind spot or reacting slowly to a hazard.

A truck driver may unconsciously put pressure on the gas pedal and accelerate to an unsafe speed. Or they may overlook a nearby vehicle and have to slam on the brakes at the last moment (increasing the risk of a jackknife accident) or swerve to avoid a collision (increasing the risk of a rollover).

Why are truckers particularly vulnerable to fatigued driving?

Truck drivers work long hours, and they are as vulnerable to lack of sleep as anyone else with a similar job. However, the nature of the trucking industry creates an added risk of fatigue because of:

  • Driving during naturally drowsy hours. Long-haul truckers often have to drive around the clock, including between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. These are “naturally drowsy hours” when the risk of a fatigued driving collision is elevated.
  • Repetitive tasks. Driving on identical-looking stretches of highway for many hours on end can make drivers sleepy.
  • Overwork and management pressure. While truck drivers are supposed to take regular breaks (more on that in a moment), they may be under pressure from the trucking companies to work through those breaks. An overworked and fatigued trucker is a dangerous trucker.

These concerns have to be taken seriously. Research suggests that 30 to 40 percent of all heavy truck accidents are at least partially caused by truck driver fatigue. That’s why federal regulations exist to limit truckers’ hours of service and ensure they get rest.

Breaking down the Hours of Service (HOS) regulations for truck drivers

The Hours of Service (HOS) rules are set by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to limit the number of working hours for truckers and prevent them from falling asleep at the wheel. Drivers of 18-wheelers and similar vehicles must abide by the following rules:

  • 11-Hour Driving Limit: Truckers can drive a maximum of 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty.
  • 14-Hour Limit: Truckers cannot drive beyond the 14th hour after coming on duty, even if they have some off-duty time in that span. They must be off duty for 10 consecutive hours to reset the time limit.
  • Required 30-Minute Break: Drivers must take a 30-minute break of non-driving time after driving for eight cumulative hours without a 30-minute interruption. This can include either on-duty or off-duty time, as long as it’s non-driving time.
  • 60/70 Hour Limit: Drivers cannot drive after 60 hours on duty in a seven-day period or 70 hours on duty in an eight-day period. This period restarts after 34 consecutive off-duty hours.

The federal regulations also require truckers to log their driving time in an hours of service log, which historically was a physical logbook but is now required to be an electronic logging device (ELD).

Investigating truck accidents where fatigue is a factor

Because truck driver fatigue plays a significant role in so many truck wrecks, investigating whether the truck driver was tired is critical. The data from the electronic logging device mentioned above is a key part of the investigation. However, other evidence can play a role as well, such as:

  • Witness testimony: Witnesses who saw the trucker may be able to testify that they appeared tired before getting on the road, or that the truck moved in a manner consistent with a fatigued driver.
  • “Black box” data: The truck’s electronic control module (ECM) records important information about what the truck was doing prior to the crash. In particular, the ECM records when the brakes are deployed, which can be critical evidence in a fatigued driving crash because truckers who fall asleep at the wheel often don’t hit the brakes.
  • Physical evidence: Evidence such as skid marks and the pattern of damage on the vehicles involved in the wreck can help reconstruct what happened and whether fatigue may have been a factor.
  • Police accident report: The official police report may contain the investigating officer’s opinion on whether fatigue was a factor in the crash.
  • Expert testimony: Accident reconstruction experts and highway safety experts may be able to offer a professional opinion on whether the wreck is consistent with fatigued driving or falling asleep at the wheel.

After a truck wreck, it’s important to act quickly, because critical evidence can disappear or be erased over time. That’s why the trucking companies typically have investigators on the scene within 24 hours to protect their interests. Victims should do the same. The sooner you call a truck accident lawyer, the better.

If you’ve been hurt in a truck accident, give us a call today

Truck accidents caused by fatigued truckers can have devastating consequences. Unfortunately, while the crash itself may have been over in moments, the aftermath can drag on for months and years. If you’ve been injured, you are likely dealing with medical bills, lost income, and many other costs related to the wreck. Meanwhile, the trucking company and their insurance company may be giving you the runaround. The sooner you get an experienced truck accident lawyer on your side, the more effectively your attorney can protect your rights while you focus on healing.

If you’ve been injured in a truck accident in Jonesboro or anywhere in Arkansas, put experience on your side right from the start. Give us a call or contact us online for a free consultation with an experienced truck accident attorney at McDaniel Law Firm, PLC.

Click here for a printable PDF of this article, “The Impact of Truck Driver Fatigue on Road Safety.”

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