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All drivers on the road are responsible for driving safely and being alert behind the wheel. For truck drivers, this responsibility is even more critical due to the inherent nature of their vehicle and the mental and physical demands of being a truck driver. Even still, truck driver fatigue is quite common for many reasons, such as the pressure to make deliveries quickly and meet deadlines and the lack of oversight in the industry.

If you suffered injuries in a truck accident, hiring a seasoned truck accident attorney is the best way to determine what factors might have caused your accident, including a drowsy truck driver.

The Dangers of Drowsy Driving

Truck Driver Fatigue

Drowsy driving poses significant dangers to both the driver and others.

Some of the key risks and consequences of drowsy driving include:

  • Decreased alertness and attention: Drowsy drivers have reduced cognitive function and alertness. They may have trouble focusing on the road, reacting to unexpected events, and making quick decisions.
  • Impaired reaction time: Fatigue slows a driver’s reflexes, making it harder to respond promptly to changing traffic conditions, such as sudden stops or obstacles.
  • Poor judgment: Sleepiness can impair a driver’s ability to assess risks accurately, leading to potentially risky maneuvers or poor decision-making.
  • Increased likelihood of accidents: Drowsy driving significantly increases the risk of accidents. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that drowsy driving is a factor in tens of thousands of crashes each year in the United States.
  • Microsleeps: Drowsy drivers may experience brief, involuntary episodes of sleep known as microsleeps. These can last for a few seconds and occur without warning, during which the driver is essentially asleep and unaware of their surroundings.
  • Drifting out of lanes: Drowsy drivers are more likely to drift out of their lane, potentially causing collisions with other vehicles, barriers, or objects on the roadside.
  • Increased severity of accidents: When drowsy drivers are involved in accidents, the severity tends to be greater. They often fail to take evasive actions or brake adequately before impact.
  • Higher fatality rates: Drowsy driving accidents are more likely to result in severe injuries or fatalities due to the lack of defensive driving responses.
  • Risk to others: Drowsy drivers put themselves at risk and endanger the lives of passengers in their own vehicles and others sharing the road, including pedestrians and cyclists.

When it comes to truck drivers, all of these risks increase substantially. Trucks are extremely large and heavy vehicles requiring the utmost attention and skill. Truck drivers can’t give driving their full mental and physical attention when they are drowsy. If they cause an accident, it’s much more likely to be severe than a drowsy driver behind the wheel of a passenger car.

Given these dangers, truck drivers must prioritize getting enough rest before embarking on long journeys and recognize the signs of drowsiness while driving, taking appropriate breaks or naps when necessary.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Laws: Hours of Services

Those in the commercial truck industry must adhere to current Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Laws. These regulations address many different facets of the truck driving industry. However, the most commonly violated are hours of service laws.

Under hours of service regulations, truckers have limitations on the number of consecutive hours they can drive and how many hours they can drive in a single week. They must formally document their driving hours.

Unfortunately, some truck drivers create fraudulent documentation to continue to abuse and break the law by driving more hours than they should or not resting enough before getting back on the road. Hours of service regulations reduce the incidence of driver fatigue— a leading cause of big rig accidents.

Drowsy Driving Similar to Drunk Driving

While drowsy driving significantly contributes to many motor vehicle accidents, it often doesn’t receive the same attention as drunk driving. Traffic safety and public health experts advocate for heightened awareness and preventive measures to combat drowsy driving.

According to NHTSA, drowsy driving caused at least 91,000 crashes, resulting in 50,000 injuries and 795 fatalities. These statistics have remained relatively consistent year over year. In contrast, alcohol was a factor in 9,949 fatal crashes in a recent year, accounting for nearly 30 percent of all fatal accidents.

While determining if a driver has been drinking is relatively straightforward with reliable measurements, identifying a drowsy driver, especially after an accident, is considerably more challenging.

No definitive method can quantify a driver’s level of sleep deprivation or ascertain if they drove while fatigued. Most drivers won’t admit to drowsiness, leading accident investigators to attribute the incidents to other factors.

However, extensive research and analysis suggest that around 6,000 annual accident fatalities involve drowsy driving. If accurate, this implies that approximately 21 percent of all motor vehicle accidents involve drowsy driving each year. Such accidents come at a substantial societal cost, ranging from $12.5 billion to $109 billion annually, factoring in medical expenses, property damage, and related accident costs.

While drunk and drowsy driving are distinct, they share several similarities and are equally dangerous. Controlled studies have revealed that both drunk and drowsy driving contribute to a comparable number of accidents.

Drivers under the influence of alcohol often encounter difficulties with depth perception, vision, and speed judgment. Their risky driving behaviors arise from the impulsiveness, inhibition, and overconfidence induced by alcohol.

On the other hand, drowsy drivers struggle to maintain vigilance on the road and may fail to react appropriately to various driving situations. Situations demanding quick reflexes can lead to accidents if the driver is fatigued.

After approximately 18 hours of wakefulness, a drowsy driver’s vigilance, reaction time, multitasking ability, and hand-eye coordination are on par with someone with a blood alcohol content (BAC) level of 0.05 percent. After 20 hours awake, their impairment rivals a 0.08 BAC, the legal limit in most states. Beyond 24 hours without sleep, a drowsy driver’s impairment equals a BAC of 0.1 percent.

Even a mild and short-term sleep deficit can significantly impair driving abilities. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s research has revealed that getting only six to seven hours of sleep per night doubles the risk of a crash. Sleeping less than five hours further doubles that risk.

Untreated Sleep Apnea Can Lead to Truck Driver Fatigue and Crashes

Many factors can cause semi-truck accidents as well as truck driver fatigue. One that isn’t well-known is drivers who have untreated sleep apnea. This condition can cause drowsy driving problems such as lack of concentration and increased reaction times. If you think a truck driver caused your accident, now is the time to seek legal representation.

A study by the University of Pennsylvania and sponsored by the American Transportation Research Institute of the American Trucking Associations and the FMCSA reveals that mild to severe sleep apnea affects nearly one-third (28 percent) of commercial truck drivers.

This is a shocking statistic considering how many big rigs are on the road daily. However, it is just one of the many factors contributing to semi-truck accidents that a truck accident lawyer can investigate.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a disorder characterized by short periods of interrupted breathing while sleeping. Some individuals’ breathing stops for 10 seconds or more up to 400 times during one night. Although sleep apnea is often undiagnosed, it can be life-threatening and impact the abilities of those affected.

Driving and Sleep Apnea

Truck drivers with sleep apnea rarely get a good night’s sleep, leading to difficulties staying awake during the day, problems with visual focusing, and longer reaction times.

Truck drivers with sleep apnea are more likely to crash because of fatigue. Even those who don’t fall asleep while behind the wheel still suffer from decreased alertness and inattentiveness directly linked to lack of sleep. Fatigue and sleep apnea are no excuse for causing an accident. A seasoned truck accident attorney will hold truck drivers and their carriers accountable for any damages they cause.

Can Truck Drivers Still Drive if They Have Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is not addressed explicitly in FMCSA regulations. Currently, federal law doesn’t require testing, but testing and treatment for sleep apnea can save lives and improve productivity.

However, FMCSA regulations state that anyone with a medical history or clinical diagnosis of any disorder that can interfere with their driving abilities shouldn’t be medically qualified to drive commercially in interstate commerce. Additionally, motor carriers can’t require or allow truck drivers to drive a commercial vehicle if they have any condition that impacts the safe operation of a vehicle.

Untreated sleep apnea is one of these conditions. Truck drivers diagnosed with moderate to severe sleep apnea are considered unsafe for driving a CMV and will lose their commercial driver’s license (CDL).

But the good news is that sleep apnea is treatable. Once a truck driver addresses this problem and receives appropriate treatment, they are again allowed to drive and regain their CDL.

Other Underlying Medical Factors that Can Contribute to Drowsy Driving

Sometimes, a driver’s drowsiness or tendency to doze off can be from another health issue. If your truck accident attorney can demonstrate that the driver or their employer, if applicable, negligently overlooked signs of chronic fatigue and failed to seek medical assessment, they may still be deemed liable for the accident.

Some of the other medical conditions linked to drowsy driving include:

  • Insomnia
  • Narcolepsy
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Dementia
  • Epilepsy
  • Certain heart conditions
  • Complex internal health issues

These underlying health concerns can significantly impair a driver’s ability to remain alert and attentive while operating a vehicle. If neglected or untreated, they may culminate in drowsy driving incidents, potentially leading to accidents and injuries.

When negligence in recognizing and addressing these conditions contributes to a crash, it can have legal implications for both the driver and their employer. A knowledgeable attorney can navigate the complexities of such cases and pursue rightful compensation for the resulting damages from your truck crash.

Did a Fatigued Truck Driver Hit You?

If you suspect that a drowsy driver caused your truck accident, you may have a valid claim for compensation. Consulting with a knowledgeable local truck accident attorney is the most effective way to ascertain your eligibility for such compensation.

Proving cases of fatigued driving can be complex, as there’s often no concrete evidence of drowsiness or sleep deprivation. However, partnering with an experienced attorney with a track record in handling such cases can significantly bolster your chances of receiving the compensation you deserve.

A seasoned truck accident lawyer can carefully gather pertinent evidence to potentially establish the drowsy state of the truck driver who collided with you.

This evidence might include:

  • An absence of skid marks at the accident scene, suggesting the drowsy driver may not have attempted to brake in time
  • Employment or school attendance records, which may reveal a chronic pattern of sleep deprivation for the motorist
  • Prescription records for medications known to induce drowsiness
  • Official driving logs required by the FMCSA
  • Cell phone records, social media activity, and credit card statements, which can indicate prolonged wakefulness leading up to the accident
  • Additionally, testimonials from fellow passengers or eyewitnesses can further support your case

By enlisting the services of a skilled truck accident attorney, you can significantly improve your chances of obtaining full and fair compensation for your truck accident injuries and damages.

Injured in a Truck Accident? Meet With an Experienced Truck Accident Attorney Today

Semi-truck drivers need to take their health seriously. If they don’t, they are potentially putting everyone in their path at risk for severe and fatal injuries.

Commercial carriers who knowingly allow their drivers to work with untreated conditions can also be held liable in an accident. Due to the severity and complexity of big rig accidents, you must have legal representation when pursuing compensation. Consult experienced Chicago personal injury lawyers if suffered injuries in truck accident.

Request a Free Consultation

Tell our experienced team about your accident and/or injuries. One of our personal injury attorneys will contact you to schedule a free case evaluation. Remember: you won’t pay for anything unless we secure a compensation on your behalf.

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