The Real Dangers of Truck Driver Fatigue

They’re the biggest things on the road: semi-trucks rolling on our nation’s highways and interstates at high speeds. Fatigued drivers of the super-sized trucks are disproportionately involved in fatal crashes and accidents involving serious injuries. The National Transportation Safety Board states that “truck driver fatigue may be a contributing factor in as many as 30 to 40 percent of all heavy truck accidents.”

Fatigue Behind the Wheel of a Big Truck

When the driver of an 80,000-pound commercial truck is fatigued or otherwise failing to drive safely, bad things can happen. Though big rigs account for only four percent of vehicles on the road, they’re disproportionately involved in eleven percent of crash fatalities, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration states that truck driver fatigue was the main cause of thirteen percent of all fatal crashes involving a tractor-trailer and a passenger vehicle. Driver fatigue can be caused by any number of reasons, including:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Driving too many hours consecutively
  • Driving too many hours with inadequate off-duty time
  • Pressure to deliver loads

A lack of sleep has a number of negative effects on the mind and body, some of them severe. A recent U.S. military study showed that sleep deprivation hampers constructive thinking and diminishes emotional intelligence. Other negative consequences of fatigue include:

  • Decreased alertness. Losing one and a half hours of needed sleep (adults typically need seven hours nightly) results in a 32 percent decrease in daytime alertness.
  • Impaired memory and a lessening of the ability to think clearly and process information efficiently.
  • A doubling of the risk of sustaining an injury at work.
  • Weakening of the immune system.

Driving Restrictions

Because of the pressures employers place on truck drivers to drive long hours over great distances, the government has imposed a series of restrictions on the amount of time big rig drivers may spend behind the wheel. Some of the restrictions include the following:

  • Drivers may drive a maximum of 11 consecutive hours after 10 consecutive hours off-duty
  • Drivers may not drive beyond the 14th hour after going on duty (following 10 consecutive off-duty hours)
  • Drivers may not drive after more than 60 hours on-duty in one week or drive after more than 70 hours on-duty in eight days. Drivers can restart either seven or eight consecutive-day duty periods after 34 or more consecutive off-duty hours.

If drivers or employers violate these regulations, they increase the risks of causing injuries or fatalities in collisions. Drivers and employers who violate these regulations also face fines from state and local enforcement officials and civil penalties from $1,000 to $11,000 — levied by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) — depending on the severity of the infraction. As part of the hours of service regulations, drivers must maintain a record — a log book — of “his or her duty service for each 24 hour period.” This allows for a record of service in case there is a question as to a driver violating the restrictions on the amount of time that he or she is legally allowed to drive in a given period.

Very Big Rigs

Those large 18-wheeler trucks can weigh 60,000 to 80,000 pounds, while most cars weigh only 2,000 to 4,000 pounds. Even the biggest SUVs weigh only 6,000 pounds, or three tons. This size disadvantage often results in more serious injuries for the drivers and passengers of cars and SUVs. Because big rigs are much longer and heavier than passenger vehicles, they are much harder to steer in evasive actions or to bring to a complete stop. At 65 mph, it takes a car about 160 feet to stop. A tractor-trailer going 65 mph needs approximately 420 feet to come to a complete stop. If you or a family member have been hurt in a crash with a large truck, contact a Louisiana personal injury attorney for an assessment of the facts in your case. A personal injury attorney can determine who bears liability in a fatal crash or a collision causing serious injuries, and also help you find and receive the evidence that needs to be collected after an accident involving a semi, including the driver’s log book. An experienced attorney can help you seek the compensation you deserve for medical care, loss of income, and pain and suffering.