One of the most common causes of truck accidents is truck driver fatigue
Commercial truck drivers have a hard job. Navigating busy highways, unfamiliar routes, roads and cities with constantly changing driving conditions, ever-changing weather and road conditions, unclear road construction signs, shifting traffic patterns all have to be managed with great care. There is also the pressure from the trucking company to deliver a load on a tight deadline.
Traffic jams, construction delays and unreasonable deadlines can cause some truck drivers to skip legally mandated breaks. These regulations are put in place so truck drivers do not become fatigued and increase the risk of an accident occurring. If driver fatigue caused truck accident, do you know what to do next?
Our experienced truck accident lawyer at Munley Law Personal Injury Attorneys knows all too well how dangerous fatigued driving can be. That’s why we work hard to make sure truck accident victims receive proper compensation for their injuries following a trucking accident.
What Are the Hours of Service Regulations for Truck Drivers?
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FCMSA), some of the mandated rest breaks for the trucking industry to avoid dangerous driver fatigue are as follows:
- Property-Carrying Vehicles: Commercial truck drivers who drive within a 150 air-mile radius (which is the equivalent of 172.6 statute miles) of the normal work reporting location may drive for a maximum of 14 consecutive hours. They are also required to take a 30-minute break after eight cumulative hours of driving and must be off duty for 10 hours before starting another 14-hour shift.
- Passenger-Carrying Vehicles: Truckers may drive for a maximum of 14 consecutive hours. They are required to take a 30-minuted break after eight consecutive hours of driving and most be off duty for eight hours before starting another shift. The break may be satisfied by any non-driving period of 30 consecutive minutes (i.e., on-duty not driving, off-duty, sleeper berth, or any combination of these taken consecutively).
There are exceptions to these rules. For example, drivers can extend the drive time by two hours if adverse weather conditions affect their route.
What is Truck Driver Fatigue?
Driver fatigue, also known as drowsy driving, is when a driver operates a vehicle while they are tired. Drowsy driving can happen to anyone at any time and it is extremely dangerous. Dozing off, even for just a few seconds, can cause the truck driver to run the truck off the road, be unable to regain control in time and crash into another vehicle/other drivers.
Driver fatigue slows down reaction times, decreases awareness and attention, impairs judgment, and increases the risk of a fatal accident. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) reports that 1.2 million collisions are caused by drowsy driving each year, costing $109 billion in damages. PennDOT also estimates that drowsy driving kills between 5,000 and 8,000 people each year – a higher fatality rate than accidents caused by distracted driving.
Truck drivers are one of the top professions to drive while fatigued, third only to shift workers and business travelers. 13 percent of commercial truck drivers were reported to be fatigued at the time of their truck accidents.
In addition to rushing to meet deadlines, sleep disorders such as sleep apnea can cause driver fatigue and impair a driver’s ability to stay awake and alert. Falling ill while on the road may necessitate the use of over-the-counter cold and flu medications which may cause driver fatigue.
If you were in an accident with a large commercial truck, a sleep disorder could be the cause of the truck driver falling asleep at the wheel causing them to lose control of their truck. Personal injury lawyers know how to ask and answer these important questions.
How Dangerous is Driver Fatigue?
Driver fatigue is just as dangerous as driving while intoxicated. While we all know the risks associated with drunk driving, very little is mentioned about the risks of driving while fatigued.
If a truck driver gets behind the wheel after being awake for at least 18 hours, it is the same as getting behind the wheel with a blood alcohol content of 0.05%. If a trucker drives after being awake for at least 24 hours, it is the same as driving while having a blood alcohol content of 0.1%, which is higher than the legal limit. Commercial truck drivers and their trucking company have a responsibility to themselves and other motorists on the road to make sure they are taking their mandated breaks.
If you have been involved in an accident with a semi truck and you suspect the driver is suffering from sleep deprivation, contact an experienced truck accident attorney at Munley Law Personal Injury Attorneys today. A personal injury lawyer knows how to determine negligence in your truck accident case — whether it is only the truck driver or also potentially the trucking company who is ultimately responsible.
For years, Pennsylvania residents have been trying to get their state representatives to put drowsy driving laws into effect, like Arkansas’ drowsy driving law, or New Jersey’s 2003 “Maggie’s Law.” However, currently, there is no drowsy driving legislation in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
According to a Sleep Review magazine piece, “More than 1,550 deaths, 76,000 injuries, 100,000 police-reported crashes, and $12.5 billion in monetary losses are the annual result of drowsy driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In a study of fatal crashes on the New York Thruway, an estimated 45% occurred because the driver fell asleep at the wheel. Another study showed that 31% of fatal-to-the-driver commercial truck collisions were caused by drowsiness. The annual indirect cost estimate of sleep-related problems is $50–$100 billion, due to accidents, litigation, property destruction, hospitalization, and death.”
What Are the Warning Signs of Semi Truck Driver Fatigue?
There are several warning signs to look out for as a fatigued truck driver:
- Having trouble keeping your eyes open and focused on the road.
- Having trouble keeping your head up.
- Daydreaming or wandering, disconnected thoughts.
- Drifting from your lane.
- Drifting off the road.
- Yawning frequently or rubbing your eyes.
- Missing signs or exits.
- Feeling irritable, restless, or aggressive.
- Unable to remember how far you’ve traveled or landmarks you passed.
If you notice you are doing any of these things, the safest thing you can do for yourself and every other driver on the road is to pull over and rest. Do not try to tough it out – just stop driving.
How Can Truck Drivers Avoid Driving While Fatigued?
There are several steps a truck driver can take to prevent drowsy driving and falling asleep at the wheel:
Get Enough Sleep
Truck drivers, especially cross country truckers, cover thousands of miles per trip and are driving for hours at a time. The best thing to do before getting behind the wheel is to get enough rest. If at all possible, truck drivers should not drive at the peak sleepiness hours, which is between 12am and 6am.
Maintain a Healthy Diet
Skipping meals, or eating heavy meals, can severely interfere with your sleep patterns. The best thing to do is to eat at regular times and even have a light snack before bed. Being well-rested before a long drive will help with reaction times, attention, and awareness on the road.
Take a Nap
If you get to the point where you display the warning signs of drowsy driving, pull over as soon as it is safe to do so (and in a safe location) and take a nap. Ideally, the nap should be anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes long.
Short naps are actually more effective in restoring energy than a cup of coffee.
Avoid Medication That Induces Drowsiness
Do not take any medications that have drowsiness as a side effect. Check the warning labels before taking anything. If you are on prescription medications, speak with your doctor before getting behind the wheel.
Recognize the Signals of Drowsiness
Pay attention to yawning, heavy eyes, and the other signals listed above. If you are experiencing any of them the safest thing to do is to stop driving.
Do Not Rely on “Alertness Tricks” to Keep You Awake
Smoking, turning up the radio, and opening the windows are not cures for driver fatigue. While caffeine is good to drink on long trips, it can take several minutes to get into your system, so do not rely on it. The only sure way to keep yourself from driving drowsy is to get enough sleep.
How Can I Prevent Getting into a Truck Accident in Pennsylvania?
While so many things are out of your control while driving on Pennsylvania roads and highways, there are several things you can do to drive defensively and reduce the risk of being involved in an accident with a semi, commercial, or tractor trailer truck:
- Do not travel in the No-Zone. The No-Zone is what the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation calls three points of a commercial truck. Two of the points are the two sides of the truck. If you cannot see the truck driver in the truck’s sideview mirrors, then the truck driver cannot see you. The third point is behind the truck: if you linger behind the truck too closely, the truck driver will not be able to see you in their rearview mirror.
- Pass a commercial, semi, or tractor trailer truck on the driver’s side and never stay next to the truck for long. Find a safe way to pass the truck and create as much distance as possible.
- Don’t cut in/ cut in front of a large commercial truck, especially when cutting in wouldn’t leave you ample space between your car and the truck.
- Do not try to squeeze between a truck and the direction it is trying to turn.
- Pay attention: Focus on the road and don’t get distracted by your phone or other passengers in your car.
- Remain calm and do not be overly aggressive on the road. Remember, everyone is trying to do the same thing – get from one place to another in the safest way possible.
- Buckle up. Seatbelts are the best protection in any type of car crash and can be the difference between life and death for you and your passengers.
How Can a Munley Law Personal Injury Attorneys Truck Accident Lawyer Help Me With My Truck Accident Claim?
The aftermath of a truck accident can be overwhelming for the victim and their loved ones. Besides dealing with severe injuries, truck accident cases are often complex and may involve more than one liable party. The Munley Law Personal Injury Attorneys tractor trailer accident lawyers are experts in their field and understand the Pennsylvania and national trucking laws, as well as various insurance policies. Your Munley truck accident lawyer will work with a team of people to build your case, including expert witnesses, eye witnesses, responding police officers, and accident reconstructionists.
It is the responsibility of the truck driver and the truck company to make sure they are fully rested before getting on the road. You should not have to foot the bill for the negligence of a fatigued driver. Recovery following a truck accident is long and difficult, but the claims process is one part of the journey you do not have to do alone. Call the Munley Law Personal Injury Attorneys truck accident lawyers today for a free consultation and speak with a legal expert about all your options.