Sleep deprivation is to blame for almost 100,000 motor vehicle accidents and 1,550 fatalities per year in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Twenty percent of truck drivers had excessive daytime sleepiness, and 29 percent were at risk for suffering from sleep apnea. Thirty six percent admitted to having near miss accidents of which nearly half were sleep-related.
Most sleep-related crashes are serious because a person asleep at the wheel is unable to prevent the crash from occurring. Unfortunately, sleep-related crashes frequently occur on highways, and thus at high speeds. Fatigue caused by sleep deprivation may also be responsible for up to 56 percent of crashes involving commercial truck drivers.
Sleep deprivation is a common consequence of certain lifestyles choices, including how one makes a living. Unfortunately, the nature of long-haul truck driving can contribute to sleep deprivation and fatigue. Driving late at night, driving a large number of miles, and driving for three or more hours at once are all factors that contribute to sleep deprivation. According to one study, long-haul truck drivers average little more than five hours of sleep per night.
Commercial truck drivers are at a particular risk for sleep deprivation-related accidents. Truck drivers often work long hours and drive late into the night or early in the morning. Strict deadlines often compel drivers to ignore drowsiness or to use legal and illegal stimulants that may impair their ability to safely operate a vehicle. Any of these factors can cause the driver to lose control of the huge vehicle and cause a devastating accident.
The use of antidepressants is directly related to vehicle accidents. Sleep-related disorders also have a strong effect on the incidence of driving accidents: many physicians feel that commercial drivers should be assessed for sleep-related fatigue disorders before providing them with their trucker’s license.
The high incidence of sleep deprived truck driver crashes led the federal agency in charge of commercial drivers (The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration), to enact new rules in July of 2013. In short (and depending upon the nature of the trucking operation) these regulations require the following:
- Once a trucker reports on duty, they can work / drive for a maximum of a 14 hour shift before being required to go off duty or into the sleeper “berth” (sleeping portion of their truck cab) for 10 hours
- During this 14 hour shift, the trucker is not allowed to operate their big rig for more than 11 hours.
- Truckers cannot drive more than 60 hours in any 7 day period or 70 hours in any 8 day work period
It is never easy to prove that a traffic collision between a tractor trailer and another car, truck or passenger vehicle was caused by a sleepy truck driver. Drivers rarely admit that they were fatigued prior to the crash. Likewise, due to the adrenaline rush following such a calamity, it isn’t easy for investigating officers from the State Highway Patrol or other agencies to detect that a driver was sleepy prior to the crash. The role of a personal injury lawyer is to get to the truth by analyzing the physical evidence at the scene; the trucking logs, company policies and procedures on driving, fleet training and various other information. An accident attorney can employ experts to determine if there is evidence of such as a lack of evidence of any braking just prior to impact, a violation of regulations regarding sleep, a failure to attempt to avoid the crash and many other indications of a sleepy truck driver. This makes it crucial to consult and retain an attorney familiar with trucking accidents to have your best chance of finding maximum liability on the trucking company or independent truck driver.