Over-the-road truckers have a stressful job. They are typically away from their home and family for days at a time, and they have to drive long hours. Much of the time they spend on the road is during the evening and overnight hours, when it is very easy to get tired and even drift off to sleep while behind the wheel. This problem is made worse by the pressure truck drivers are under. Many times, trucking companies ask their drivers to meet unrealistic deadlines, and although they don’t tell them directly to break federal regulations, drivers often feel like they have no other choice than to stay out on the road longer than they are legally allowed.
Drowsy Driving is More Widespread than Most People Believe
Drowsy driving happens when someone is driving when they are fatigued, do not have enough sleep, or a combination of these and other factors. Lack of sleep is a major cause, but drowsy driving can also occur because of excessive alcohol, various types of drugs, and sleeping disorders that go untreated. When a motorist is driving while drowsy, their reaction times are slower, and they are not able to pay as much attention as they should to what is happening on the road. This can result in poor driving decisions and the inability to react in time when a dangerous situation arises.
Drowsy driving is a major problem in the U.S. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) help show just how widespread this problem is:
- Among adults ages 18 or older, one out of every 25 drivers reported that they have fallen asleep at the wheel at least once in the past 30 days;
- The CDC estimates that roughly 72,000 crashes each year are caused by drowsy driving, and about 6,000 of these crashes result in fatalities;
- Commercial truck, bus drivers and others who drive long shifts for a living are among the groups most likely to get behind the wheel while drowsy.
Drowsy Driving and Truck Accidents
A Harvard School of Medicine study found that an alarming number of truckers drive while drowsy. Nearly half of the semi-truck drivers who participated in the study admitted to having engaged in this behavior. This would equate to thousands of truckers who are out there driving when they shouldn’t be, putting themselves and countless other motorists at risk.
Drowsy driving is especially dangerous with truckers, because of the size of the vehicles they are operating. Commercial trucks often weigh 20-30 times more than a typical passenger vehicle, and they are taller with more ground clearance. Given the size mismatch between the two vehicle types, it is no surprise that, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), occupants of passenger vehicles are 28 times more likely to be injured or killed in a truck accident than occupants of the commercial truck.
Impact of Driver Fatigue on Driving
There are several adverse effects of sleep deficiency, such as:
- Impaired balance
- Slowed reflexes and reaction time
- Increased distractibility
- Impaired memory
- Impaired judgment
- Increased risk of automatic behavior
- Impaired creativity
- Increased risk of falling asleep
Federal Regulations to Prevent Fatigued Driving for Truckers
The number of hours spent on the road by a truck driver is regulated by the FMCSA. These regulations are aimed at preventing fatigued drivers from getting on the road. The new hours-of-service regulations in effect from 2013 include the following provisions:
- Average work week cannot exceed 70 hours by a truck driver
- The driver cannot drive for more than 34 consecutive hours if they have reached the limit
- Truck drivers are required to take 30-minute breaks in the first 8 hours of their shift
Liability for Drowsy Driving-Related Truck Accidents
Trucking accidents are a complex area of personal injury law, because of the numerous governing industry laws and regulations, and the frequent difficulty determining who the responsible party is. For example, in drowsy driving accidents, truck drivers could be held liable if they are independent contractors and they choose to violate the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s hours of service guidelines. If the driver is an employee of the trucking company, however, then the company can be held responsible.
In some cases, the relationship between the driver and the trucking company is not totally clear. Sometimes, the trucking company claims that the driver is an independent contractor, when in reality their work relationship shows that the driver has been mis-categorized and is actually an employee. With these types of cases, it is essential for injured parties to work with a personal injury attorney who has in-depth knowledge of this legal area and extensive experience successfully pursuing truck accident injury claims.
Speak with a Skilled Mississippi Truck Accident Lawyer
If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in a truck accident, you need strong legal representation to ensure that you receive the full and fair compensation you need and deserve. Since 1979, the Gardner Law Firm has represented victims of trucking accidents in Mississippi. We know the ins and outs of these types of cases, how to identify the right party to pursue, and what it takes to secure favorable results for our clients.
For a free consultation with one of our seasoned attorneys, call our office today at 228-436-6555, or you may send a secure and confidential message through our online contact form.