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Driver Fatigue in Truck Accident Cases

Operating a motor vehicle requires vigilance, especially when that vehicle is a 75-foot-long tractor-trailer. Any type of driver error – such as driving while drowsy – could lead to a serious or deadly accident.

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Large Truck Crash Causation Study, about 13 percent of commercial truck drivers were fatigued at the time of their crash. Because drivers may not admit to being drowsy, the actual number of crashes in which fatigue was a factor is likely much higher than 13 percent.

FMCSA regulations limit drive time for commercial truckers in an effort to prevent crashes due to fatigue. However, cargo companies and drivers sometimes disregard safety rules in order to increase profits. In doing so, they also increase the risk of a potentially catastrophic truck accident.

If you’ve been injured in a crash with a commercial truck, you deserve to know whether fatigue was a factor. The personal injury attorneys at Wapner Newman can look into possible causes of a commercial trucking accident to determine whether the driver or the driver’s employer was negligent in any way. If their disregard for federal driving laws and roadway safety was a factor in the crash, you might be entitled to compensation.

Contact our office today to request your free, no-obligation case consultation.

The Effects of Fatigue

Fatigue may cause a range of symptoms and behaviors in drivers, such as:

  • Irritability and lack of emotional control
  • Aggressive driving
  • Poor reaction time
  • Impaired perception
  • Speeding (in an effort to get to a stopping point for sleep)
  • “Zoning out” or episodes of microsleep, a temporary loss of consciousness.

The effects of fatigue may be amplified in people with certain health conditions or who are taking medications.

Fatigue and Trucker Health

Nearly one-third of commercial truck drivers suffer from sleep apnea, a condition that causes brief interruptions of breathing during sleep. Those interruptions disrupt normal sleep patterns, often leading to excessive drowsiness, along with memory and concentration problems.

The FMCSA requires drivers with sleep apnea to be evaluated by a medical examiner. If their sleep apnea is mild, and is being treated, they are permitted to drive. Moderate to severe sleep apnea would prohibit a person from legally operating a commercial truck.

Spouses or partners of people with sleep apnea are often the first to notice something is wrong, because the most telltale sign of sleep apnea is loud snoring interrupted by gasping. Because many truckers spend so much time on the road, and often are alone, their symptoms of sleep apnea may go unnoticed. They may feel tired when they wake up, but not understand why.

In addition to sleep apnea, many truckers suffer from diabetes. Drivers who have diabetes must be able to prove they are successfully managing symptoms of their disease, in order to legally operate a commercial truck. The trucking lifestyle – irregular sleep patterns and poor eating habits, specifically – impedes one’s ability to manage the disease.

Diabetes can cause dangerous fluctuations in blood sugar, leading to confusion, dizziness, fatigue, or loss of consciousness. It may also lead to severe visual impairment and loss of feeling in the extremities. A driver who has both sleep apnea and diabetes, and who fails to get adequate sleep, may be at high risk of falling asleep while driving.

Conflicting Interests

In March 2018, police fined 65 truckers for violating Pennsylvania’s commercial truck traffic ban during Winter Storm Quinn. Some drivers claimed they didn’t know of the ban, but it’s hard to believe that all 65 truckers were unaware of it. Surely, some drivers simply chose to ignore the ban, because they wanted to work.

Drivers who are paid by the hour, or by the number of miles driven, may skirt safety rules in an effort to make more money. Truck drivers can’t claim they’re unaware of federal hours-of-service laws, as they are required to track their driving time to prove they’re in compliance. But some drivers try to fudge their records, and some fleet owners actually pressure drivers into falsifying their time logs.

Help for Crash Victims

A large commercial truck carrying a full load may weight up to 80,000 pounds. That’s roughly equivalent to the combined weight of 26 compact cars. Given that fact, it’s obvious that an out-of-control tractor-trailer can cause immense destruction on the roads. Drivers and fleet owners must do everything they can to eliminate fatigue in the profession, and to reduce the risk of serious and fatal crashes.

If a trucking crash caused your injuries, you might be entitled to compensation. Contact the personal injury attorneys at Wapner Newman to request a free, no-obligation case consultation.