Trucking accidents – in any capacity – are extremely dangerous. Drivers are specially trained and vetted to take proper precautions on the road to keep themselves and other drivers safe. However, the nature of commercial trucking requires long hours and tight deadlines.
This frequently leads to truck driver fatigue – and crashes.
According to truck driver fatigue statistics provided by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), around 13 percent of truck drivers involved in an accident were considered to have been “fatigued” at the time of the crash.
But how does truck driver fatigue factor into the legal proceedings of a personal injury case?
In this post, we discuss everything you need to know about truck driver accidents due to fatigue. Let’s get into it.
What is Truck Driver Fatigue?
Truck driver fatigue – commonly referred to as “drowsy driving” is a term used to describe a driver who is operating their vehicle while exhausted. Fatigued driving is commonly compared to driving while intoxicated. Drowsiness impairs:
- Reaction times
- Ability to stay vigilant on the road
The risk of accidents increases significantly when a truck driver is experiencing fatigue. Moreover, the average truck (fully loaded) can weigh up to 80,000 lbs. Most accidents result in serious injuries or death.
Common Causes of Driver Fatigue
There are many reasons for a truck driver to be fatigued behind the wheel. Some of the most common causes of truck driver fatigue include:
Driving a semi is a monotonous job (generally speaking). Drivers are required to spend very long hours on the road by themselves. The nature of the job can be extremely repetitive and lead to the driver becoming bored or tired.
Erratic Sleep Schedules
Truck drivers are required to meet tight deadlines – and many prefer to drive at night due to less traffic. This can throw off their sleep schedule and result in drowsiness behind the wheel.
Truck Driver Shortages
It’s no secret the trucking industry has been experiencing extreme labor shortages in recent years. While it appears the situation is slowly improving, projects currently say the industry is facing a shortage of around 160,000 drivers by 2030. Demand for drivers is not slowing down, meaning companies may resort to aggressive deadlines that make truck driver fatigue more common.
Some truck drivers may have medical issues that require certain medicines. For instance, antidepressants and antihistamines commonly list drowsiness as a side effect – which can contribute to fatigue behind the wheel.
Due to tight deadlines, it’s not uncommon for drivers to work 14-hour days. These types of hours can easily lead to extreme physical and mental exertion and cause burnout.
Common Truck Accidents Caused by Driver Fatigue
Truck driver fatigue presents a near-unlimited amount of risks. Owing to the sheer size of the vehicle, accidents generally inflict significant property damage and catastrophic injuries. We’ve seen many trucking accidents – and some of the most common include:
A jackknife accident occurs when a truck folds itself in a way that the cab and the trailer end up at a 90-degree angle. This is typically caused when the driver brakes too suddenly and too hard – the weight of the trailer moves forward against the braking traction of the cab. On the highway, this can easily lead to accidents involving other drivers.
Truck rollovers happen when the driver loses control of the vehicle – which can be a result of sudden maneuvers. The truck may roll on its side and collide with other drivers on the road.
Rear-ending is when the truck slams into the car in front of it. This is one of the most common truck accidents caused by driver fatigue – in which the driver is not paying proper attention to the road and fails to stop in time.
Under-riding happens when the truck driver slows down or stops too quickly and the vehicle(s) behind it becomes lodged under the trailer. Unfortunately, under-ride accidents tend to be the most deadly type of trucking accident.
Head-on collisions occur when the driver swerves into oncoming traffic and slams into an opposing vehicle. These types of accidents are extremely catastrophic (and oftentimes deadly).
T-bone accidents commonly happen when a truck driver runs a red light and hits another vehicle perpendicularly. In these accidents, the glass windows tend to shatter and can cause cuts and lacerations – in addition to a slew of other injuries.
Trucking Regulations for Fatigued Driving
Every state has its own trucking regulations. For instance, Illinois imposes a limitation of 48 feet for semitrailers and the width must not exceed 102 inches. There is also a weight limit of:
- 20,000 lbs per axle
- 34,000 lbs per tandem axle
- 80,000 lbs gross weight
Now, regarding driver fatigue prevention, the laws are pretty similar across the United States per the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration:
- Shifts cannot exceed 14 hours if the driver is on a short-haul delivery within a 150-air-mile radius.
- Inclement weather conditions may only extend drive time y two hours.
- The driver is required to take a 30-minute break on the eighth hour of duty.
- Truck drivers are required to get at least eight hours of sleep – if their truck has a sleeper berth.
Even with these regulations in place, some drivers violate the rules to meet/exceed deadlines. To make matters worse, some trucking companies encourage drivers to side-step regulations – mostly due to staffing shortages and high demand.
Who is at Fault in Truck Driver Fatigue Accidents?
In most cases, the trucking company that employed the at-fault driver is held responsible for truck driver accidents due to fatigue. It is their responsibility to make sure the drivers they hire meet federal qualifications and follow the guidelines put in place to prevent truck driver fatigue. If they are unable to do this, the company may be guilty of negligence.
How to Prove Your Accident Was Due to Truck Driver Fatigue
Most trucking companies have high-powered legal defense teams on retainer to protect them from trucking accident lawsuits. Proving the truck driver and/or the trucking company responsible for an accident is not an easy process.
To begin filing a trucking accident injury claim, you’ll need to:
- Establish the truck driver had a duty of care (was driving legally and was bound to the federal trucking requirements listed above).
- Breached the duty of care and was experiencing fatigue while driving.
- The breached duty of care led to the accident.
- You suffered an injury(s) and are facing financial losses.
Attempting to do this on your own will be extremely difficult. Speak with an experienced semi-truck accident lawyer to start the process of gathering proper documentation, communicating with authorities, building evidence, establishing proof, and holding the at-fault party liable.
You always have the option to represent yourself in a personal injury case. However, earning fair compensation will be near impossible without a skilled attorney.
Damages to Recover in Truck Accidents Due to Fatigue
There are many recoverable damages you can pursue in a truck accident injury case. You deserve compensation for every financial hardship you faced, including (but not limited to):
- Medical bills
- Future medical treatment
- Lost wages
- Property damages
These are referred to as economic damages – and typically include anything with a clear price tag attached. You’ll need to gather all invoices, receipts, estimates, bills, records, etc. to build your claim.
Now, some damages are a bit more subjective. These refer to the struggles you are now facing in everyday life, including (but not limited to):
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional anguish
- Decreased quality of life
- Loss of companionship
These are referred to as “non-economic” damages. When you meet with a trucking accident lawyer, they will help you calculate these damages and factor them into the claim.
Speak with a Truck Accident Injury Attorney
Proving truck driver fatigue is almost always an uphill battle – and knowing what to do after an accident is not always clear. The most important thing you need to do is prioritize your recovery. Leave the legal proceedings to an experienced trucking accident attorney.
Start by reaching out to a local law office to understand the next steps. Most attorneys offer free consultations to better understand your situation and provide a path to seeking justice.
At Midwest Injury Lawyers, we have an Indiana truck accident lawyer and a Chicago truck accident lawyer in-house to field your concerns. We operate on a contingency fee agreement – which means you pay no fees unless we win.