fatigued truck driver resting his head on the steering wheel of a big rig

How Truck Driver Fatigue Leads to Trucking Accidents

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), fatigue is a factor in thousands of trucking accidents each year. This is an alarming statistic, particularly since fatigue-related accidents are entirely preventable. There is no excuse for truck drivers to risk putting others in harm’s way. Furthermore, the federal government has enacted regulations that are specifically intended to prevent fatigued drivers from getting behind the wheel. For example, under Section 392.3 (“Ill or fatigued operator”) of the Code of Federal Regulations:

“No driver shall operate a commercial motor vehicle, and a motor carrier shall not require or permit a driver to operate a commercial motor vehicle, while the driver’s ability or alertness is so impaired, or so likely to become impaired, through fatigue, illness, or any other cause, as to make it unsafe for him/her to begin or continue to operate the commercial motor vehicle.”

If you were injured in an accident caused by a fatigued truck driver, you and your family may be entitled to significant compensation. However, proving that the commercial driver was drowsy or fell asleep at the wheel can be challenging.

7 Common Causes of Fatigue-Related Trucking Accidents

A knowledgeable trucking accident attorney can investigate to determine if fatigue was a factor in the crash. The most common causes of fatigue among commercial truck drivers that result in crashes include:

1. Drowsy Driving

In some cases, truck drivers are simply drowsy as a result of not getting enough sleep. While studies focused on understanding how much sleep we need have yielded varying results, it is well understood that our bodies need rest to function properly. Truck drivers work long hours to move cargo across great distances. They often wake up early and drive well into the evening hours. A combination of long hours and stress can make truck drivers drowsy. This drowsiness can significantly impair a truck driver’s ability to make the right decisions and avoid creating dangerous situations on the road.

2. Failure to Acknowledge Signs of Fatigue

All drivers should be able to recognize the signs of fatigue, and they should be willing to pull over and break when it is no longer safe for them to drive. Truck drivers are no exception. However, whether due to job-related pressure or simply wanting to get home at the end of the day, it is clear that truck drivers frequently ignore the warning signs of fatigue. This includes signs such as:

  • Difficulty remaining focused on the road
  • Drifting out of the driver’s lane or onto the shoulder
  • Having trouble keeping the head up or the eyes open
  • Yawning frequently
  • Zoning out

3. Hours of Service Violations

The FMCSA defines hours of service as “the maximum amount of time drivers are permitted to be on duty including driving time.” Hours of service regulations also mandate the “number and length of rest periods, to help ensure that drivers stay awake and alert.” All truck drivers are subject to hours of service rules. In addition, trucking companies are obligated to make sure their drivers comply. Unfortunately, the opposite often proves to be true. Hours of service violations are common, and in many cases trucking companies encourage and even force their drivers to keep going longer than they should. This frequently leads to driver fatigue, which in turn leads to a high number of serious and fatal trucking accidents.

4. Illnesses

From seasonal illnesses like the flu to chronic conditions like diabetes, various health issues can cause fatigue. When the body is using its resources to fight off an illness or disease, it does not have the normal amount of resources available to manage routine activities – such as driving. In many cases, illness-related fatigue can come on suddenly. This can make it difficult for truck drivers to get somewhere safe before they cause an accident. As a result, truck drivers who feel sick should seek medical treatment before getting behind the wheel. If necessary, they should take time off from work until they are fit to drive again.

5. Medications

Many types of medications can cause fatigue. This includes everything from over-the-counter sleep medications to prescription painkillers and antiviral drugs. If fatigue is a potential side effect of a medication, truck drivers should either avoid taking the medication or take it at a time that it will not impair their ability to drive.

6. Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a medical condition that causes individuals to periodically stop breathing while they are asleep. These periods of breath cessation can cause sleep disruptions which in turn can prevent the patient from getting the sleep they need. Often, people with sleep apnea will remain fatigued even after getting a “full” night’s rest. Sleep apnea is a common problem among truck drivers, with one study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute revealing that up to 47% of truckers are at risk for the condition. In addition to the dangers posed to the truck driver’s health by sleep apnea, the condition also increases accident risk due to excessive daytime sleepiness.

7. Tight Deadlines (and Job Consequences for Late Deliveries)

Whether truck drivers have to make hundreds of deliveries over the course of a day or they need to get freight cargo to a faraway destination by a specific time, tight deadlines often lead to truck drivers spending too many consecutive hours driving. When truck drivers face job consequences for late deliveries, this increases the risk that they will prioritize meeting their deadlines over protecting other motorists’ safety. This is an unfortunate situation for any truck driver. However, it is no excuse for putting others in danger. Truck drivers and trucking companies alike deserve to be held accountable when they create unnecessary risks on the road.

Contact a Trucking Accident Attorney Today

Truck accident litigation is complicated. It is crucial to work with a lawyer who understands the many factors that can lead to crashes, the complex federal regulations that apply to the trucking industry, and the common tactics of carriers and insurance companies to pay as little as possible. At Maggiano, DiGirolamo & Lizzi, our trucking accident attorneys leave no stone unturned when investigating and building your case. We delve into the crash reports, the driver’s medical records, and other evidence to determine if fatigue was a factor. Please call Maggiano, DiGirolamo & Lizzi at (201) 585-9111 today for a free case review. Our trucking accident attorneys serve clients in Fort Lee and throughout New Jersey, as well as New York.