Most truck accidents result from driver error, such as speeding, driving under the influence, improper loading, and failure to do regular vehicle maintenance. However, it may come as a surprise to many people that a top cause of truck accidents is drowsy driving.
Sleep deprivation is a big problem in the United States. A Harvard School of Medicine study revealed that half of the participants admitted to driving while drowsy. This is disturbing because fatigued drivers show the same symptoms of those under the influence of alcohol. Drowsy drivers have impairments of judgement and coordination, decreased visual acuity, and slower reaction times.
A driver who has been awake for 17 or more hours could be just as dangerous as a driver with a blood alcohol content of 0.5 percent in some cases. This makes them a danger to not only themselves, but everyone else on the road around them. Drowsy drivers are three times more likely to be involved in a traffic accident, according to the National Safety Council.
The dangers of drowsy driving begin long before a person falls asleep behind the wheel, so it is important to recognize the signs of fatigue. Symptoms of drowsy driving can be different from person to person and occur in varying levels of intensity. The most common signs of drowsy driving include:
- Difficulty remembering the past few miles
- Episodes of nodding off
- Drifting out of the lane
- Delayed reaction time
- Delayed perception
- Poor decision-making skills
Once a driver becomes fatigued, they can often fail to realize it and continue to drive unaware that their performance is degraded or that they are making bad decisions.
Why are Truck Drivers Prone to Fatigue?
Truck drivers are more inclined to be fatigued while driving because they work long shifts, may have to travel at night, and they are under pressure to deliver goods on a deadline. Being on the road for long periods of time dulls the senses and can put the driver in a state of general lethargy. Trucking companies may make unreasonable scheduling demands of their drivers, leading them to bend the hours of service rules.
Sometimes, a medical condition, sleep apnea, is responsible for daytime drowsiness. Sleep apnea disrupts a person’s breathing at night impairing the body’s ability to reach the deep, restful phases of sleep, leaving them tired when they awake. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) estimates that as many at 28 percent of commercial truck drivers may have sleep apnea. Federal regulations prohibit truck drivers with moderate to severe sleep apnea from getting behind the wheel of a commercial vehicle. Symptoms of sleep apnea include:
- Constant daytime drowsiness
- Difficulty focusing and concentrating
- Disrupted sleep
- Excessive snoring
- Choking or gasping while sleeping
However, sleep apnea can be tested and treated. A truck driver undergoing treatment for sleep apnea can receive medical certification from the Department of Transportation to keep their commercial driver’s license.
What are the Regulations for Truck Drivers?
The FMCSA is the agency responsible for regulating commercial trucks on American roads. The FMCSA estimates that drowsy driving is involved in 13 percent of all commercial motor vehicle crashes. The FMCSA’s hours of service rules include:
- A 11-hour driving limit: May drive a maximum of 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty.
- A 14-hour on-shift duty rule: May not drive beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty. Off-duty time does not extend the 14-hour period.
- A 30-minute driving break: Drivers must take a 30-minute break when they have driven for a period of eight cumulative hours without at least a 30-minute interruption. The break may be satisfied by any non-driving period of 30 consecutive minutes.
- A 10-hour off-duty limit: May drive a maximum of 10 hours after reaching 14 consecutive hours on duty.
- A 15-hour limit: May not drive after having been on duty for 15 hours. Off-duty time is not included in the 15-hour period.
- A 60/70-hour limit: May not drive after 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days.
These limits apply to all of the driver’s working time, not just the hours spent on the road. Truck drivers spend a great deal of time in inspections, loading and unloading, doing repairs, waiting for repairs and maintenance to be performed.
How can Drowsy Driving Truck Accidents be Prevented?
Drowsy driving accidents are preventable, and truck drivers have a responsibility to stay alert while operating their vehicles, which can weigh up to 80,000 pounds when full of cargo. Truck accidents can cause severe and life-altering injuries, such as traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord damage, amputations, and paralysis. In addition to a lifetime of medical problems, a person may also be left unable to earn a living after a truck accident.
To combat drowsy driving, the FMCSA recommends that truck drivers maintain good dietary habits, like eating regular meals and avoiding sugary foods that cause a crash in blood sugar. Between long driving shifts, drivers should sleep for six to eight hours.
Prescription and over-the-counter medications that list drowsiness as a side effect should be avoided. Recognizing the signs of drowsiness is crucial. When symptoms, such as yawning, blurred vision, or heavy eyes, set in, it is imperative that truck drivers pull over to rest instead of drinking coffee, opening windows, or playing loud music.
America relies on trucks to deliver goods of all kinds around the country. Consumers have gotten used to online ordering with promises of same or next-day delivery, and the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic only increased the amount of internet shopping. Consequently, there are more trucks than ever on U.S. roads, and the demand for drivers is high. Drowsy truck drivers endanger themselves and everyone around them. In the majority of truck accidents, it is the passengers in the other vehicles who suffer the most severe injuries.
Truck accidents are more complicated legally than accidents that only involve cars. Liability may rest with more than one party, including the driver, the driver’s employer, the company that owns the truck, the company that did repairs or maintenance on the truck, or the company that hired the truck to transport cargo.
Additionally, Virginia law requires the person filing a complaint to prove that the defendant is 100 percent responsible for the accident. Those injured in truck accidents should consult with an experienced lawyer who understands the complexities of the hours of service regulations.
Virginia Beach Truck Accident Lawyers Fight for Those Injured in Drowsy Driving Truck Accidents
Drowsy driving is a form of negligence that can cause a catastrophic truck accident. Our experienced Virginia Beach truck accident lawyers can help you if you were injured by a drowsy truck driver. At East Coast Trial Lawyers, we understand that drowsy driving can lead to devastating consequences. Contact us online or call us at 757-352-2237 for a free consultation. We are located in Virginia Beach, and we proudly serve clients throughout Chesapeake, Eastern Shore, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Suffolk, Virginia, as well as North Carolina and nationwide.