Does Truck Driver Fatigue Cause Truck Accidents?

October 14, 2021

Truck drivers are large commercial vehicle operators transporting goods to and from Massachusetts and other parts of the United States. These products include food items and other necessary things useful in day-to-day life. So, in a nutshell, commercial truck drivers are important and play a key role in the state’s economy and the U.S. at large. 

Furthermore, the importance of these commercial vehicles means that they are on the road daily, increasing their accident risks. Generally, several factors cause trucking accidents, like distracted driving, drunk driving, weather conditions, speeding, driving under the influence of drugs, etc. But the most common contributor to truck accidents is fatigued driving. 

This article looks at the meaning of fatigue, what truck driver fatigue is all about, fatigue-related accidents, and legal options for compensation. If you suffer injuries from a commercial truck accident, our truck accident attorneys at Kelly and Associates will help you get compensated for your monetary losses.  So, contact us immediately after the collision. 

What Is Fatigue? 

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Fatigue goes beyond feeling tired or drowsy. It is the general term for describing physical or mental weariness that goes beyond normal tiredness. Physical fatigue often results in an inability to exert force with one’s muscles to the degree one would expect. It may affect the whole body or be limited to one muscle group. 

Physical fatigue results from physical exercise or a lack of sleep, and often it leads to mental fatigue. Mental fatigue includes drowsiness, and it causes decreased attention and ability to perform complex or simple tasks with customary efficiency. In addition, mental fatigue could also result from an interruption in the normal sleep pattern. 

Physical and mental fatigue is common among commercial truck drivers. A fatigued truck driver worked for extended consecutive hours without sleep or adequate rest or changed their sleeping pattern. Since sleep patterns are naturally associated with the body’s circadian rhythm, shift patterns and transits across different time zones interrupt it.

This affects the alertness of the driver and their preparedness to react in certain situations. It also explains why many truckers engage in drowsy driving, which ultimately may lead to a car accident. A good example is a tired driver who comes upon a traffic jam. In such a situation, the driver may cause a rear-end crash because mental exertion and physical tiredness would keep them from reacting in time and with the strength they normally use. 

What Are the Three Types of Fatigue? 

There are three types of fatigue commercial motor vehicle drivers may experience. They are:

  • Transient fatigue is acute fatigue caused by extreme sleep restriction or extended hours awake within one to two days. 
  • Cumulative fatigue is caused by restricted mild sleep restrictions or extended hours awake across a series of days. 
  • Circadian fatigue refers to reduced performance at night, particularly during the “window of circadian low” (WOCL). This is usually between 2 a.m. and 5:59 a.m. 

A truck driver with an accumulation of “sleep debt,” e.g., one hour less of sleep for consecutive days, needs a series of days with more-than-usual sleep to recover from cumulative fatigue fully. 

What Are the Signs of Driver Fatigue?

Before listing the signs of fatigue, let’s note that adequate sleep is not the only cause of fatigue. Other known causes are emotional stress, daily alcohol consumption, using illegal drugs like cocaine, or using over-the-counter drugs like sedatives, etc. All these come under lifestyle factors. 

Mental health issues like depression and physical health conditions like sleep disorders (insomnia) can cause fatigue. No matter the cause of fatigue, the affected driver would experience the following symptoms:

  • Poor concentration
  • Blurry vision
  • Dizziness and headaches 
  • Chronic tiredness and sleepiness
  • Muscle weakness/sore or aching muscles
  • Slow reaction time
  • Impaired decision making and judgment
  • Slow reflexes and responses
  • Impaired hand-to-eye coordination, etc

What Causes Truck Driver Fatigue?

Fatigued driving has costly effects on the life, safety, and health of U.S. residents. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), drowsy driving-related crashes accounted for 647 deaths in 2019. The number shows the danger drowsy drivers pose on roadways. But what exactly is the cause of truck driver fatigue?

Below we look at factors that contribute to truck drivers’ fatigue. 

Time of Day

A large percent of truck drivers who drive at night are at a greater risk of being in an accident. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), 13% of commercial truck drivers involved in road accidents were fatigued. Accidents caused by driver drowsiness happen mostly between the hours of 12 a.m. and 6 a.m. when the body naturally feels drowsy. Thus, continuous driving at night rather than resing would likely cause a fatigue-related accident.

Hours Awake

Truck drivers with over 18 or more hours of driving would have significant impairment in cognitive ability. Being awake for over 18 hours is akin to being a drunk driver with 0.08% blood alcohol concentration. This is why there are federal regulations and hours of service truckers must adhere to. 

Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorder is an ailment that often goes undiagnosed. When a trucker has an undiagnosed sleeping disorder like apnea, it increases their chances of causing an accident. 

Rotating Shift Schedule 

The nature of the trucking industry does not allow truck drivers to have a fixed schedule. Therefore, while a trucking company may rotate schedules, there is no guarantee that truckers would get adequate rest. In most cases, adequate rest is unavailable during shift rotation, increasing fatigue and drowsy truck drivers. 

What Are the Dangers of Fatigued Driving?

A drowsy truck driver has been compared to driving under the influence of alcohol for obvious reasons. Like alcohol, fatigue impairs a person’s cognitive ability, thereby affecting their response time. This is particularly dangerous as it is more challenging to drive a large vehicle than a passenger vehicle. 

The following are some of the dangers of driving fatigued:

  • Slowed creation time and reflexes
  • Impaired creativity
  • Increased distractibility 
  • Loss of alertness 
  • Impaired balance 
  • Increases risk of automatic behavior
  • Impaired memory

What Should You Do if a Drowsy Driver Caused an Accident? 

When a traffic accident involving a drowsy driver happens, you must take the normal steps you would in any other motor vehicle accident. This includes making an accident report to the relevant authority, speaking with witnesses, gathering evidence at the accident scene, etc. Once you’ve done this, you can then contact an experienced truck accident lawyer.

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However, if your injuries are such that you cannot take the steps mentioned, you should still contact a truck accident lawyer. The attorney would investigate the crash and gather the evidence you need to commence a claim with the trucker’s or their employer’s insurance company. Note that truck accidents often have multiple liable parties. 

For example, suppose a trucking company asked a driver to drive beyond the legal limit because of an impending deadline. The driver then gets drowsy, and coupled with bad road conditions, crashes. The company that asked them to operate outside the hours of service regulations would be liable for damages. Establishing the truck company’s ability alone would be hard, so work with an experienced attorney. 

How Do You Prove Drowsy Driving Caused a Truck Accident? 

Firstly, when we talk about truck accidents, we are not referring to pickup trucks or utility vehicles. Instead, truck accidents involve semi-trucks, tractor-trailers, 18-wheelers, etc. Drivers of these vehicles, like all other road users, owe you a duty of care. Part of upholding that care duty is practicing safe driving habits and getting adequate rest before driving. 

Therefore, a truck driver who causes a crash because of inadequate sleep is at fault for the occurrence. However, alleging drowsy driving is not enough to get you compensation. You must be able to prove that the truck driver violated the hours-of-service regulations. Proving this is not easy, but it is possible with the help of experienced truck accident attorneys. 

Our legal team at Kelly and Associates would use the following to identify driving hours violations:

  • Truck driver’s logbooks
  • On-board GPS
  • Cell phone data
  • Receipts
  • Stamped pick-up and drop-off times

Comparing the driver’s logbook with the truck’s GPS shows whether the logbook content is accurate. Reviewing receipts shows when the drivers stopped for gas, food, and other supplies. Reviewing all this information makes it easier to tell if there were violations and consequently prove drowsy driving. 

Our Truck Accident Lawyers Can Help You Prove Drowsy Driving

At Kelly and Associates, our truck accident attorneys understand the severity of the injuries caused by truck accidents as they ply the road. We also know of the pain and suffering and mental anguish that comes with dealing with injuries. This is why we would aggressively pursue your case and prove that driver fatigue caused the crash. In addition, we will get you the maximum compensation, and we demand no upfront fees. Contact us today to schedule a free case review with our attorneys.  

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Michael D. Kelly has a diverse background that provides a breadth of legal knowledge that he draws upon in serving his clients. Kelly compiled an excellent academic record during his three years at New England Law in Boston.