How Truck Driver Fatigue Contributes to Accidents

how truck driver fatigue contributes to accidents

At one point or another, we have all experienced extreme drowsiness from over-exhaustion, pulling an all-nighter, or just staying up too late, and know just how exhaustion can affect our cognitive and physical abilities. When your job function relies on alertness and reaction time to keep yourself and others safe, even slight drowsiness can create an unsafe environment for anyone in close proximity.

Driver fatigue is all too common among truck drivers who regularly drive long distances with minimal breaks. According to a study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), fatigue is among the top causes of all truck accidents, accounting for approximately 40 percent of all truck accidents. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identifies the main causes of fatigue as:

  • Being awake for many consecutive hours
  • Not getting enough sleep over multiple days
  • Not following your body’s natural circadian rhythm
  • Monotonous tasks or long periods of inactivity
  • Health factors such as sleep disorders or medications that cause drowsiness

Drowsiness or sleepiness is not the only effect of fatigue, especially for drivers. The National Safety Council equates that driving while fatigued is the equivalent of driving with 0.08% blood alcohol content. The CDC points out that because of the stimulus of the roadway drivers can also experience:

  • Slowed reaction times
  • “Tunnel vision”
  • Forgetting the last few miles driven, or “blanking out”
  • Lane drifting
  • Poor decision making

Due to the sheer size of trucks, it is especially important for truck drivers to be mindful of their physical and mental capacity on the road. A fully laden semi-truck can weigh up to 80,000 pounds which can cause a serious amount of damage to smaller vehicles on impact. Large trucks take a longer amount of time to slow at highway speed, and driver correction can be more difficult to manage with a larger vehicle.

Federal Regulations

Federal entities and private organizations now require specific regulations to protect all drivers on the road because of the significant number of crashes due to driving while drowsy. The FMCSA holds truck drivers and their companies to strict regulations that limit the number of consecutive hours a driver can be on the road without a break as well as the number of hours a driver is allowed to drive within a week.

As of 2013 regulations include:

  • The average workweek for a truck driver may not exceed 70 hours.
  • Once a driver has reached the limit, he or she may not drive for 34 consecutive hours.
  • Truck drivers must take a 30-minute break within the first 8 hours of a shift.

Preventing Drowsy Driving

In addition to hourly restrictions and mandated breaks by the government, trucking companies are beginning to implement additional regulations including lane departure technology, driving time-tracking devices, and even wearable biometric sensors that will alert drivers to take a break or recognize sudden movements or changes in brain waves. Some of the best tips for staying awake include maintaining healthy habits such as avoiding greasy foods and cigarettes, staying hydrated and minimizing caffeine reliance.

Driving fatigue is a largely preventable cause of truck accidents as long as drivers and trucking companies act with responsibility for the massive vehicles they operate. If you or a loved one has been injured in a truck accident, you should contact an attorney immediately. Our team of Bakersfield truck accident attorneys at Rodriguez & Associates can help assist you in the next steps for your case. Contact our office today to schedule a consultation.