Having a tired and overworked trucker at the wheel of a Big Rig can lead to one of the most dangerous kinds of accidents we have on our highways. That’s why the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) has implemented a set of driver fatigue laws to prevent such accidents from occurring.
Oftentimes, truck drivers will continue to work long after a sense of drowsiness has overtaken them. These situations have resulted in hundreds of deaths and thousands of crashes each year.
You might remember that in 2014, famous actor/comedian Tracy Morgan was one such victim of truck driver fatigue. After being hit by a Walmart tractor-trailer in New Jersey, he was in a coma for two weeks while his friend, comedian James McNair, tragically died in the same collision.
Walmart eventually settled with Tracy Morgan for an undisclosed amount after it was discovered that the truck driver had gone without sleep for 24 hours prior to the accident.
In 2017, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), driving while fatigued led to 91,000 crashes, 50,000 injuries, and 795 fatalities.
Several Factors Can Lead to Truck Driver Fatigue
In general, truck drivers are under pressure to deliver their cargo on time, so tight deadlines can even encourage drivers to exceed speed limits, which when combined with drowsy driving, can lead to severe consequences.
Even though a large portion of the population can experience sleepiness while driving, commercial drivers are even more likely to become fatigued.
Drivers can become fatigued when:
- Driving in certain conditions such as rain or in darkness (when it becomes dark outside, the body produces melatonin which helps trigger the body to sleep)
- Long hours on the road
- Driving after taking medication and after eating heavy meals
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Older drivers and those in poor health are also more susceptible to fatigue
- Sleep apnea (a condition that decreases the amount of oxygen one gets while sleeping so that during waking hours a person might feel drowsy)
Laws Governing Truck Driver Fatigue
To keep truck drivers from driving while fatigued, the FMCSA established a set of rules, known as hours of service (HOS) regulations, that commercial drivers are required to follow. By keeping truckers off the road for long hours and enforcing breaks, these rules were designed to prevent further accidents involving trucks.
These are the current provisions:
- 30-minute rest breaks must be taken by truck drivers after 8 hours of consecutive driving
- Truck drivers are limited to a 60/70 hour work week depending on a rolling period of seven or eight days. After their week is complete, they may only return to driving after being off-duty for more than 34 hours.
- During any 24-hour period, commercial truck drivers can only work during a “14-hour window,” during which they can only drive for 11 hours and must be off duty for 10 consecutive hours. The other 3 hours during the work window may include things like breaks, meals, and logging their time and cargo.
Who Is at Fault in a Fatigued Truck Driving Accident?
Obviously, the truck driver himself is responsible for following regulations and maintaining an accurate driver log, but not every truck driver is solely to blame. Some trucking companies have been known to push drivers to break regulations and manipulate their logbooks.
Claims against commercial trucking companies can be complicated as fault may be attributed to several parties. Perhaps the truck itself was defective. Then the truck’s manufacturer might be found liable.
In the case of the truck driving accident involving Tracy Morgan, the driver himself was clearly at fault, but Walmart initially refused to take responsibility for the actions of its employee, so Morgan took them to court. Walmart said it was not to blame because the victims of the accident were not wearing seatbelts. In this case, the National Transportation Safety Board sided with Morgan, saying that Walmart’s truck driver was extremely sleep-deprived.
Of course, the circumstances of each individual case are different, and it may be that the trucking company, or the truck driver, or both, will be held at fault for truck driver fatigue.
Have You or Someone You Know Been Involved in a Truck Driving Accident?
If you believe you deserve compensation for being involved in a truck driving accident, let our experienced law team of personal injury attorneys work for you.