Causes of Truck Accidents Truck Driver Fatigue

Causes of Truck Accidents Truck Driver Fatigue

Truck crashes account for approximately 4,000 fatalities each year or about one in every 8, though there are millions of more passenger cars on the roadways. A collision with a truck can result in massive property damage to ordinary cars, catastrophic injuries, and death. Despite regulations on the number of hours truck drivers can operate their vehicles, the leading cause of truck accidents is truck driver fatigue.

Estimates vary on the extent of driver fatigue, but some indicate that it is a factor in 30 percent of fatal crashes and 15 percent of serious accidents. The National Truck Accident Research Center reported that 52 percent of fatal trucking crashes occurred between midnight and daybreak.

Rest Requirements

The trucking industry is heavily regulated, most notably by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) that promulgates and enforces rules on driver operations. Currently, these rules require:

  • A 30-minute rest break for each 8 hours of a shift
  • 11-hour driving limit after ten consecutive hours off-duty
  • No driving beyond 14 consecutive hours after coming on duty following ten consecutive hours off-duty
  • May not drive after 60 hours on-duty in one week or more than 70 hours on-duty over eight days
  • May restart a consecutive 7/8 day period after taking 34 hours or more consecutive hours off-duty

Regardless of these provisions, driver fatigue is a major problem for truckers. There is no objective test to measure a driver’s level of fatigue such as the breath or blood test that measure blood alcohol concentration levels. You do not necessarily have to fall asleep for fatigue to be a factor. The lack of sleep can impair a driver’s ability to perceive and react to a hazard in much the same manner and to the same degree as someone who is intoxicated.

Regardless of the science of sleep and the obvious benefits of having rested drivers operating 80,000-pound vehicles, Congress is considering rolling back some of the sleep regulations. One proposal is to eliminate the second mandatory nighttime rest period; another would allow drivers to use the 34-hour rest period more than once per week. In essence, these provisions would allow drivers to work up to 82 hours per week.

How to Prove Fatigue as a Factor in Accidents

Investigators can surmise that fatigue was a factor in an accident even if a driver denies it. If the truck rear-ends another vehicle with little or no braking or runs off the road despite clear visibility, then fatigue can certainly be considered. A check of the truck’s on-board monitor and driver’s log can also provide evidence of the driver’s activities and rest times.

Investigators may also examine the following:

The driver’s sleep/awake pattern in the days before the accident
Time spent driving, loading and preparing that day
Time of the accident—drivers are less alert at night and especially after midnight; also many accidents occur in the first hour of driving
Blood alcohol level by breath test or blood test
Drivers’ training
Health of the driver, including any medications taken including cold and allergy pills
Company policies and how the company handles and monitors sleep maintenance or enforces the rules on rest and sleep breaks

Truck accidents often involve driver error with fatigue as a major consideration. A thorough investigation of any fatal or serious accident requires that your personal injury attorney be knowledgeable and resourceful in handling these often complex cases.

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