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How Does Driver Fatigue Cause Truck Accidents?

Driving while drowsy can be very dangerous and can even mimic the effects of drunk driving. Driver fatigue causes thousands of accidents because drowsiness can impair judgment, slow response times, and decrease focus. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration estimates that driver fatigue is one of the top factors in truck accidents in the U.S. Here is everything you need to know about drowsy driving and collisions involving large trucks.

Occurrences of Driver Fatigue 

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration reports that more than 100,00 accidents happen each year because of drowsy driving. The NHTSA also reports that motorists who drive while tired cause as many as 40,000 injuries and 1,500 deaths per year. Harvard Medical School conducted a sleep study on the topic. The researchers estimated that 250,000 people fall asleep each year while behind the wheel. Over 50 percent of survey participants admitted to operating a vehicle while tired in the past year. Driver fatigue is a serious matter and many researchers report that driving while drowsy has the same effects as driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

In response to this serious matter, the U.S. government and private sector transportation companies have tightened regulations in recent years. For instance, new rules have been adopted limiting the number of hours truck drivers can be on duty without a break. Truckers are required to take regular breaks that last for a specific amount of time. These regulations have standardized workloads to keep all motorists safe.

Despite new regulations, it is not unusual for commercial drivers to spend more than 11 hours per day on the road. Some drivers spend more than 60 hours a week on the road, posing a risk to other motorists. In some instances, commercial drivers continue driving while tired to meet deadlines or make more money. Some companies place strict deadlines on truckers, forcing them to go for longer periods without taking a break. This type of behavior not only endangers truckers and the general public, but it puts trucking companies at risk for legal problems.

Consequences of Drowsy Driving 

When drivers operate vehicles while tired, it can inhibit their ability to drive safely. Driver fatigue is especially dangerous for large commercial trucks, given the size of these vehicles and the skills needed to drive one safely. Combined with the long hours truck drivers typically spend on the road, fatigue can cause a driver to crash from:

  • Swerving between lanes
  • Drifting off the road
  • Unknowingly accelerating by putting pressure on the gas pedal

Truck drivers who fall asleep at the wheel may unknowingly guide their vehicles off the road, causing a collision with a median, tree, road sign, or another vehicle. Drivers who suddenly startle themselves awake can also cause an accident by overcorrecting the steering wheel.

Causes of Driver Fatigue

There are a multitude of factors that can contribute to driver fatigue. Typically, drivers experience fatigue when they have not had enough sleep the night before. The act of driving for long periods on the highway quickly becomes repetitive. As a result, many drivers let their minds wander and do not concentrate on the road. Other factors contributing to drowsy driving include:

  • Driving during night hours: According to medical experts, the body becomes naturally tired during nighttime hours, making it more challenging to stay awake while driving. The most dangerous hours for driving are between 12 a.m. and 6 a.m.
  • Taking medications: Drowsiness is a side effect of many over-the-counter and prescription medications. Many medications prohibit taking a dose while operating heavy machinery, including large trucks.
  • Excessive work: The number of hours spent working in a day can impact a driver’s ability to fight off drowsiness. Truck drivers who spend more than eight hours a day behind the wheel are more likely to doze off than those who work shorter shifts.
  • Sleep disorders: Many truck drivers have untreated sleep disorders such as sleep apnea. Having an undiagnosed sleep condition makes it easier for them to fall asleep while driving.

According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, truck drivers average an hour of five hours of sleep a night. Five hours is far too little sleep to operate a large truck safely. A lack of sleep combined with long schedules makes the average truck driver highly likely to be involved in a collision.

How to Handle Fatigued Drivers on the Road 

You should take specific steps if you have been involved in a collision with a drowsy driver. Whether you are a truck driver, another motorist, or a bystander, there are things you can do to protect your finances and wellbeing after a car accident.

1. Report the Accident

If you’ve been injured in an accident with a truck, call the police as soon as possible. A call to 911 will inform the police and medical personnel of the accident, summoning them to the scene. The police will record the accident and take down vital information such as the truck driver’s name, license number, and employer. Leave the scene only if needed to go to the hospital to seek attention for injuries.

2. Seek Medical Care

Unfortunately, accidents involving commercial trucks often cause serious injuries. Seeking medical attention as soon as possible can help you receive care for urgent injuries. Going to the hospital is also important because it creates a record of your injuries and when they occurred. To avoid financial responsibility for your injuries, you should ensure the history is as complete and accurate as possible. Be very specific when talking to the doctors and describe your injuries in as much depth as possible.

3. Contact Your Insurance Providers

Contacting your auto and medical insurance providers as soon as possible can help streamline the claims process. However, keep in mind that dealing with insurance companies is cumbersome, and you may want to engage with an attorney before contacting your provider. Your lawyer may want to handle the claims process for you. You should gather the following information from your insurance provider:

  • What your insurance will cover in terms of medical equipment, medical bills, and physical therapy.
  • What copays and deductibles you can expect to pay to cover your portion of the expenses.
  • When you need to pay copays and deductibles.

Working with an attorney can help you understand the claims process and work with your insurance company more effectively. You should keep records of all conversations with your insurance providers and make copies of all documents.

4. Contact a Truck Accident Attorney

Understanding how driver fatigue causes truck collisions is one matter, proving your claim in court is another. If you were involved in a crash caused by driver fatigue, a lawyer could help. Though it may be challenging to pinpoint drowsiness as the culprit of the crash, your attorney can work to gather evidence that supports the claim.

Work With Hensley Legal Group

Have you been involved in an accident and you suspect driver fatigue is the cause? Contact Hensley Legal Group today. Many of our attorneys are experienced in dealing with truck accident collision cases. We will work with you to get you the financial compensation you deserve. Call us today to set up a free consultation with one of our experienced lawyers.