Accidents Caused by Truck Driver Fatigue

Truck drivers are often required to travel long distances, work extended hours, and meet unrealistic deadlines. Because of this, many drivers become drowsy behind the wheel or resort to unsafe methods of staying awake, putting other motorists at risk of serious injuries or even death. Truck drivers may experience fatigue as a result of insufficient sleep, extended work hours, strenuous work or nonwork activities, or a variety of other factors.

When fatigued truck drivers lose control of their vehicles and cause serious accidents, other motorists often sustain serious injuries and significant expenses. At Block O'Toole & Murphy, we fight for full compensation for those who have been injured because of drowsy truck drivers.

The Dangers of Drowsy Driving

According to the National Sleep Foundation, drowsy driving contributes to an average of 100,000 crashes per year. Signs of fatigued driving include:

  • Difficulty focusing
  • Frequent blinking, heavy eyelids
  • Missing exits or traffic signs
  • Frequent yawning or nodding
  • Drifting from the lane or hitting rumble strips
  • Feeling irritable or restless

Truck driver fatigue can severely impair an individual's ability to operate a commercial vehicle. According to a study published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine, moderate sleep deprivation produces impairments equal to alcohol intoxication. Tired drivers experience delayed reaction times, decreased awareness, impaired judgment and a greater risk of accidents. Trucker fatigue has become such a problem that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration instituted hours-of-service regulations.

Although these regulations appear to have reduced the number of accidents, driver fatigue is still a critical factor in at least 13 percent of large truck crashes, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's Large Truck Crash Causation Study.

When fatigue causes a crash, the trucking company may be held accountable for any resulting damages if they failed to follow federal trucking laws in regard to hours-of-service. If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident, our attorneys can investigate your claim to determine whether fatigue was a probable cause of your crash. For a FREE, initial consultation with an experienced attorney, fill out our contact form.

Managing Fatigue on the Road

There are several steps that commercial drivers can take to minimize their fatigue - and their risk of causing devastating collisions. These precautions include:

  • Getting enough sleep before the start of a driving shift.
  • Pausing for short naps when possible. Stopping for a break before fatigue sets in is most effective.
  • Whenever possible, avoid driving between 12:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. Many people are naturally drowsy during this time and this is the most common time for fatigue-related crashes to occur, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
  • Avoid sleeping pills or other medications that cause drowsiness.
  • Eat a diet balanced in proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, avoiding foods that interfere with sleep.
  • Know the signs of drowsy driving. Frequent yawning, blurred vision and nodding are all signs that a driver should pull over for a rest.

Federal Trucking Regulations Regarding Hours of Service

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has instituted hours-of-service regulations for interstate drivers of commercial vehicles. These laws aim to prevent accidents caused by fatigued drivers by limiting the time that drivers can operate between rest breaks.

Specifically, these laws enforce the following:

  • Truckers cannot drive beyond 11 hours in a single work period
  • Truck drivers are prohibited from driving after 14 hours since the start of their shift
  • Truck drivers must receive at least 10 consecutive hours off duty before beginning a new work period

New York truck drivers are also subject to weekly limits. Trucking law prohibits truckers from driving after they have been on-duty for 60 hours in 7 consecutive days or 70 hours in 8 consecutive days. Before beginning a new drive, truck drivers who have reached this threshold must receive at least 34 hours off-duty.

These regulations have the potential to reduce trucking accidents, but they are only effective if they are enforced. Most drivers are paid by the mile and therefore given an incentive to break federal hours-of-service regulations. For truck companies and their drivers, operating in accordance with these regulations is not always profitable in the short term. Unfortunately, violations occur regularly and they often have catastrophic results.

Who Is Responsible When a Drowsy Truck Driver Causes a Crash?

While managing fatigue is largely the responsibility of the truck driver, trucking companies and employers may share legal responsibility for accidents caused by drowsy truckers. Accident survivors can often bring legal action against both the driver and their employer. Under New York law, trucking companies may be held vicariously liable for the actions of their employees.

Sometimes, trucking companies will try to avoid liability by claiming that the driver involved in the accident was acting as an independent contractor rather than an employee. However, federal trucking regulations (49 C.F.R. § 390.5) have made it more difficult for trucking companies to avoid liability.

Investigating New York Truck Accidents

Unfortunately, driver fatigue can be difficult to detect as the cause of an accident. While there are chemical tests to measure a driver for drugs and alcohol, there is no "test" for fatigue. When trying to determine the cause of an accident, investigators and attorneys must rely on other evidence.

When an accident occurs, a lawyer will generally acquire and study the driver's log book. Truck drivers are required to record their status throughout the day as "off duty," "on duty, not driving," "driving" or "sleeper berth." However, drivers will rarely admit to a violation in their log books. Further investigation is often needed.

Because truck drivers are capable of falsifying their log books, a skilled attorney will compare these records with fuel and food receipts, shipping records, surveillance tapes, GPS tracking data, as well as cell phone and credit card statements. After full consideration of the evidence, the lawyer will determine whether the crash was caused by fatigue.

Contact Us for a Free Case Evaluation

If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident, we can determine whether fatigue led to the crash and uncover evidence that can help substantiate your claim. Simply fill out our contact form or call 212-736-5300 and we will evaluate your case, at no cost to you. Serving Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and all of New York State.

Related Articles