Hitting the Brakes on Truck Driver Fatigue: Safeguarding America’s Roads

A fully loaded tractor trailer weighs 80,000 pounds. By contrast, the average passenger car weighs 4,000 pounds. In 2019, there were over 5,000 fatal truck crashes in the United States. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), thirteen percent of these crashes were caused by fatigued truck drivers. This means that 650 lives could have been saved if truck drivers simply pulled off the road and got the sleep they needed.

Harrowing Consequences of Truck Driver Fatigue

Driving while fatigued causes slower reaction times, poor decision making, “tunnel vision” and drifting into other lanes. The National Safety Council reports that driving while fatigued can be the equivalent of driving with a blood alcohol level of .08 (which is the legal limit for intoxication in North Carolina).  It goes without saying that if a truck driver actually falls asleep at the wheel, catastrophic results can occur.

Truck Driver Fatigue Laws: Challenges with Regulating

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations state that “No driver shall operate a commercial vehicle…while the driver’s ability or alertness is so impaired, or so likely to become impaired through fatigue…as to make it unsafe for him/her to begin or continue to operate the commercial motor vehicle.” These same federal regulations mandate that truck drivers may only drive for eleven hours straight before they must stop and take a ten-hour break.

Additionally, drivers may only drive for sixty hours each week and seventy hours over eight days. However, these regulations don’t go far enough to ensure truck drivers are well rested when on the road. On the surface, a ten-hour break may seem like plenty of time for adequate sleep but in reality, a continuous pattern of eleven hours driving and ten hours off will severely interfere with a driver’s ability to be safe behind the wheel.

For instance, if a truck driver started driving on a Monday at 8:00 a.m., he or she would have to stop driving at 7:00 p.m. later that evening. A ten-hour break would allow that driver to start driving again at 5:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning.  The eleven-hour rule would mandate that the driver stop driving at 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon. The next time the driver could get behind the wheel would be at 2:00 a.m. on Wednesday morning – the worst possible time to drive because approximately fifty percent of tractor trailer crashes involving driver fatigue take place between midnight and 8:00 a.m.

Investigating Truck Accidents for Signs of Driver Fatigue

So, how do you know if a crash was caused by truck driver fatigue?  A thorough investigation of the truck company’s records is required. Truck companies are required to keep records regarding the number of hours their drivers are on the road as well as the hours they are waiting at terminals to pick up loads or drop them off. This is done electronically through a monitoring device installed on the truck (drivers used to do this by hand). Additionally, some truck companies have installed inward facing dash cams that will show whether a driver was distracted or “nodding off” at the time of a crash.

At Miller Law Group, when we are hired to represent someone or the family of someone that was seriously hurt or killed in a truck wreck, we send out extensive “discovery” requests asking for records related to:

  • The load the driver was carrying
  • All stops for gas, bathroom breaks and food
  • All stops at any terminals
  • All log books for 2 weeks before the collision
  • Any dashcam video available

Once we have all these documents, we recreate the driver’s route and stops during the days before the crash. This will show whether the driver complied with the federal regulations regarding driving hours. If the driver did not comply with the regulations, it can be assumed the driver was fatigued when the crash occurred. Proving driver fatigue usually will lead to larger verdicts.

Victim of a Truck Accident? Seek Justice with Miller Law Group

If you or a loved one has been injured in a truck crash, call Miller Law Group today – our team is standing by to take action on your case now!