Truck driver fatigue constitutes a serious problem across the United States. As humans, our bodies feel best when fully rested. When we don’t get enough sleep, we begin to think less clearly, make rash decisions, and become physically fatigued. When people feel this way, they should not attempt to drive a motor vehicle, yet accidents involving truck driver fatigue continue to happen.
Truck drivers face unique demands. Sometimes, these demands make drivers feel as if they have no choice but to drive while fatigued. Regardless, drivers always have a choice. When a truck driver gets behind the wheel of an 80,000-pound vehicle while fatigued, the driver puts everyone on the road at risk. If you have sustained injuries in a truck accident and believe that the other driver drove while fatigued, the law may entitle you to financial compensation. To learn more, contact an experienced Brooklyn truck accident attorney.
Six Causes of Driver Fatigue
Sleep —we all need it. Unfortunately, some people simply don’t get enough. Even individuals that do get enough sleep can still suffer from fatigue. According to the National Sleep Foundation, commercial drivers, especially long-haul drivers, rank amongst those who face the highest risk for driver fatigue. Truck driving certainly constitutes a demanding job, but certain factors can put drivers more at risk. This includes:
Federal law limits the number of hours that a truck driver can go in a day as well as in a 7-day period. Federal law also mandates the minimum amount of time a driver must take off between shifts. The Federal government enacted these laws to protect everyone on the road. Even with these rules, truckers can drive up to eleven hours a day. Eleven hours of driving can cause anyone fatigue. If a driver chooses to push beyond federal limits, the risk of a deadly accident increases exponentially.
Driving Through the Night
The human body has a natural rhythm, designed to be awake during the day and asleep at night. Even when someone seemingly adjusts to being awake at night, working through the night can still have negative effects on the body. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), shift workers must combat their body’s natural rest period to work the night shift. Specifically, the APA notes that even with plenty of sleep during the day, we can’t make up for circadian misalignment. Unfortunately, many truck drivers work through the night to avoid daytime traffic and meet deadlines.
Lack of Sleep
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all adults receive at least seven to nine hours of sleep per night. With less than this, the body doesn’t have a chance to re-energize for the following day. Poor sleeping conditions and/or shift work can make it difficult for some drivers to get the recommended amount of sleep. If drivers don’t get enough sleep, they may feel like they don’t have a choice to miss work, which could result in dangerous driving conditions.
Several over-the-counter and prescription medicines can cause drowsiness, so drivers should avoid those before driving. Unfortunately, some drivers do not heed these warnings and take the medication out of necessity or ignorance. Common medications that can cause drowsiness include antihistamines, antidepressants, opioids, and blood pressure medication.
Illness or Underlying Medical Issues
Truck drivers get sick, just like the rest of us. Illnesses, like the flu or a cold, can cause fatigue or make someone have to work harder to complete everyday tasks. If drivers feel sick, they may push through and become fatigued or turn to medication, which may only exasperate fatigue. Other times, a driver may suffer from an underlying health condition that causes fatigue, including sleep apnea, heart disease, or mental health issues.
Driving a truck is a demanding job. Often, drivers don’t just have to drive the truck, but they also have to load it and unload it as well. Prolonged physical stress can take a toll on the body, especially when combined with other factors that contribute to driver fatigue.
How Dangerous Is Drowsy Driving?
When a person doesn’t get enough sleep, the body begins to shut down. This can affect a person’s ability to drive. According to the CDC, 17 hours without sleep equals a blood alcohol content of 0.05 percent. 24 hours without sleep and that number jumps to 0.10 percent—legally drunk. Dangers of drowsy driving include:
- Diminished alertness
- Slower response time
- Poor decision making
- Blurry vision
- Falling asleep at the wheel
As a driver, you can watch for signs that another driver feels fatigued. Some things to look for include:
- Drifting between lanes
- Running red lights or stop signs
- Erratic behavior
- Sudden stops or acceleration
- Slow to go or remaining stopped at an intersection
Evidence of this behavior can prove that the driver felt fatigued or fell asleep while driving. Make sure to tell your attorney about any unusual behavior leading up to the accident.
Why Do Truckers Drive While Fatigued?
A recent report from AAA found that 96 percent of people socially disapprove of drowsy driving. However, 24 percent admit that they have had difficulty staying awake at the wheel within the last 30 days. Among truck drivers, the numbers become even more frightening. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration surveyed 1,265 truck drivers, and 34 percent reported falling asleep at the wheel. Seven percent said that they felt drowsy driving almost every day. Why do so many drivers continue to drive past their limits?
Truckers feel a lot of stress. As long as consumers continue to buy goods, trucking companies and truck drivers will continue to feel pressure to meet tight deadlines and get the product to its destination as quickly as possible. Extreme circumstances, like inclement weather or a global pandemic, can increase this demand and put even more pressure on drivers. While nothing constitutes a valid excuse for drowsy driving, truck drivers may report feeling as if they had no choice due to their own financial needs or direction from their employers. Regardless of the reason, drowsy driving constitutes negligence and puts other drivers at risk.
How Do I Prove the Truck Driver Felt Fatigued at the Time of the Accident?
During a personal injury case, the question of fault comes into play. In cases of driver fatigue, the victim may have a claim for punitive damages because of the truck driver’s level of negligence. Your attorney will investigate many different aspects of your accident to help prove your case.
This investigation may include:
- Witness statements: In cases of he said/she said, third-party testimony could help support your case. If you have the contact information of any witnesses who stopped at the scene, make sure to give it to your lawyer. If no one else at the scene witnessed your accident, another driver may have witnessed the truck driver’s erratic behavior that led to the accident. In this instance, your attorney may need to retrieve police reports or 911 call records.
- Employment records: Federal law mandates that all truck drivers abide by specific recording requirements. This includes hours worked and time and miles driven. In the event of an accident, your attorney can request these records to examine whether the truck driver drove in compliance with federal regulations. In addition to time records, your attorney will likely also want to review the driver’s disciplinary history.
- Medical records: Medical records can’t definitively prove that the truck driver suffered from fatigue at the time of the accident, but such records can indicate whether the driver has a health issue or took any medication that would cause fatigue. If you can prove that the truck driver and/or employer knew of potential issues that could cause driver fatigue, this can help support your claim.
- Traffic cameras: It’s hard to dispute video footage. Did the driver drift between lanes leading up to the accident? Did the driver run a red light? Traffic cameras may even show that the driver actually drove during a restricted time.
- Driving records: If truck drivers have a history of unsafe driving, their driving records may show it. If a record exists of previous infractions, not only does this show a pattern of behavior, but it also illustrates extreme negligence on the part of both the driver and employer.
Who Bears Financial Liability After an Accident Involving Truck Driver Fatigue?
In accidents involving two vehicles, fault generally lies with one or both of the drivers. However, cases involving truck drivers may also include the truck driver’s employer, particularly in cases involving truck driver fatigue. If your or the truck driver’s attorney can show that the truck driver felt pressured to drive or that the employer knew the driver exceeded federal limits, the employer may bear a level of liability. In this case, your attorney can include the driver and the employer as part of your civil case.
Several different ways exist to prove employer negligence, including:
- Employee statements – Did other employees witness orders to drive in unsafe conditions or receive orders to do so themselves?
- Missing or unclear records – After an accident, an employer may change or correct records to hide inappropriate behavior. Your attorney may also check whether the employee knew of any medical conditions or conducted a background check at the time of hire.
- Previous citations or personal injury suits – Has a current or former driver within the company received a citation or been named as a defendant in a civil case in the past?
Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer After a Truck Accident?
When it comes to truck accidents, you almost always need an attorney. If you don’t feel sure, at minimum, you should sit down for an initial consultation. Truck accidents often prove serious and can cause catastrophic injuries. After an accident, an experienced personal injury attorney can explain what comes next and help you pursue damages related to your accident. Every case involves different circumstances; however, most involve a general set of costs.
- Medical bills: These vary but can include office visits, surgeries, medication, physical therapy, and medical equipment. You can also seek reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses, such as over-the-counter medications. For serious injuries, your attorney may request consideration of future medical expenses.
- Lost wages: After an accident, you may need to take time off from work to recover from your injuries. When this happens, the law entitles you to lost wages. Lost wages include any time you miss starting from the day of the accident until you return to work.
- Pain and suffering: Pain and suffering is a blanket term used to cover most non-economic damages. Non-economic damages involve those that do not have a direct cost. Unlike medical bills and lost wages, it’s difficult to calculate the cost of physical pain. Pain and suffering can include chronic pain, anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The court or insurance company will typically look at the degree of pain and the expected duration to determine an appropriate pain and suffering award.
In some cases, the court may award punitive damages. Courts rarely award punitive damages, only in cases of extreme negligence. Courts award punitive damages to send a message and to discourage other drivers from repeating the same type of behavior in the future. In cases involving preexisting knowledge of reckless driving or employer pressure, a court may decide to award punitive damages.
Take Control of Your Future
After a truck accident, you may feel like you don’t have any control over anything. This doesn’t have to be the case, however; under New York law, you have rights. Don’t wait to take back control of your life. If you have questions or need help, contact an experienced Brooklyn truck accident attorney today to schedule a free case evaluation, during which you can discuss the details of your accident and determine your next steps.