Truck drivers have a hard job. They spend their days on the road, often hauling huge amounts of cargo to its destination. When fatigue sets in, they must often remain behind the wheel, pushing toward their destinations.
Unfortunately, that fatigue can pose substantial problems for many of the others on the road with them, including drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.
Federal Mandates Regarding Truck Driver Time on the Road
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration places clear limits on the number of hours a truck driver can spend on the road without taking a break. A truck driver, according to those regulations, can spend just eleven total hours out of a fourteen-hour shift behind the wheel before he must stop driving for a minimum of ten hours.
Furthermore, truck drivers engaged for long hauls must take a break of at least thirty minutes if they have spent eight or more hours behind the wheel.
These mandates exist both to protect drivers and ensure that they do not pose an unnecessary danger to others on the road. Unfortunately, some trucking companies may push their drivers to exceed the legal number of hours they can spend on the road each day, especially as those companies face increasing challenges related to truck driver shortages and pressing deadlines.
The Challenges Posed by Truck Driver Fatigue
Driver fatigue can cause hazards, whether because the truck driver did not get adequate sleep the night before or because he spent too many hours on the road until brain fog started to set in. While driver fatigue can pose a problem for any driver who spends too many hours on the road, truck drivers may face even more challenges when dealing with driver fatigue.
Fatigued drivers may not react as quickly to potential emergencies.
A car swerves in front of a truck driver or cuts him off, often because the driver of that vehicle has no idea how long it takes the truck driver to come to a full stop. As a result, the truck driver needs to brake hard or even steer away from that vehicle.
A fatigued driver, however, may suffer from slow reaction times that make it very difficult for him to bring his vehicle to a safe stop. Fatigued drivers may also have a hard time dealing with a range of circumstances outside their usual control, including poor weather conditions, unexpected turns in the road, or hazards from construction equipment.
Because a truck takes up so much room on the road and takes so much time to maneuver safely, truck drivers may have much more trouble dealing with those slowed response times than the average driver of a passenger vehicle. While passenger vehicle drivers may need to react fast, truck drivers often need to react faster to get the same response or even a slower response out of their trucks.
Fatigued truck drivers may have a hard time dealing with tunnel vision.
Fatigue often causes drivers to suffer from tunnel vision: a condition in which the visual field narrows to what occurs directly in front of them. Truck drivers, already suffering from a narrowed field of vision due to the large size of the vehicle and the huge blind spots, may have a much harder time dealing with tunnel vision when it occurs.
A fatigued truck driver may not notice the presence of another vehicle as it moves beside him. As a result, he may prove more likely to change lanes on top of that vehicle, merge into traffic without looking at things alongside him, or even allow his vehicle to drift partially into that lane, since he may not recognize the presence of another vehicle in that area.
Fatigued truck drivers may have poor decision-making abilities.
Fatigue can blunt the ability to make effective decisions, both on and off the road. A fatigued truck driver may not realize the danger that he poses to himself and others around him. In addition to ignoring the fact that he should probably pull off the road and give himself a chance to rest, a fatigued truck driver may make other poor decisions.
He might, for example, decide to speed because he feels that speeding will help get him to his destination sooner and, therefore, reduce the risks to others around him. He might ignore traffic signals or fail to follow directions properly as he moves through the local area. All of these hazards can put other drivers near the truck driver in substantial danger, since they may make it more difficult to predict the truck driver’s behavior and avoid an accident.
Fatigued drivers may have greater odds of falling asleep behind the wheel.
A driver who falls asleep behind the wheel may leave no one in control of his vehicle and in the case of a big truck moving down the road, that could mean substantial danger. Sometimes, truck drivers may fall asleep altogether, not waking until the truck collides with something. Other times, truck drivers may engage in microsleeps: falling asleep for just a few moments or up to thirty seconds at a time.
The more those truck drivers nod off behind the wheel, the more potential accidents they may cause.
Why Do Truck Drivers Have Such a High Risk of Fatigue?
Truck drivers often put themselves in positions where they may face a higher risk of fatigue than other drivers on the road or, in some cases, their companies may even put them in those positions.
Truck drivers routinely work long hours. However, some conditions can increase the risk of fatigue and, therefore, the risk of serious accidents.
Eight hours at a time on the road can cause serious road haze.
After many hours on the road, truck drivers may struggle to keep their attention on the task at hand. Driving for eight hours or more can leave anyone exhausted, even if he has done nothing but control the vehicle all day. With truck drivers spending as much as eleven hours a day on the road, even with breaks, they may have a hard time preventing fatigue from setting in.
Truck drivers may feel pressured to meet unrealistic deadlines.
Often, truck drivers find themselves pushed to haul goods across the country as quickly as possible. They may need to meet tight deadlines for getting those goods in the hands of their recipients. They may even have to deal with hazardous weather conditions, particularly during the winter months. If they fail to meet those deadlines, they may find themselves in danger of losing their jobs.
With those tight deadlines looming, they may push themselves to continue driving even as they feel fatigue setting in, especially when they near the end of their 14-hour shifts and know that they need to finish the haul or reach a certain milestone before they pull off the road for the night.
Trucking companies often pay drivers by the mile.
Many trucking companies pay by the mile, rather than paying the truck driver per hour of work. As a result, truck drivers who need to pull off the road for any reason, including catching a little sleep before they continue their run, may feel as though they may miss out on potential income. They may, as a result, try to push themselves to stay on the road even though they have become increasingly drowsy.
Many drivers spend the night in unfamiliar or uncomfortable locations, which can lead to poor sleep habits.
Truck drivers spend a lot of hours away from friends and family members and away from home. Sometimes, they may sleep in hotel rooms or other unfamiliar locations, which can make it harder to fall asleep at night.
Other times, they may end up sleeping in the truck, which, while more familiar, may not offer as much comfort as a bed at home. A lack of rest at night can cause substantial problems for many truck drivers, who may struggle with drowsiness once they get back out on the road the next morning.
The truck driver shortage has exacerbated many of the problems already faced by the industry.
Increasingly, trucking companies find themselves struggling to locate drivers. The truck driver shortage often makes it difficult for trucking companies to find new drivers, and rates for truck drivers have become increasingly competitive.
A shortage of drivers has forced many companies to push their drivers harder, including offering fewer breaks or even pushing them to break the law. Some truck drivers may find themselves pushed to exceed the federally-mandated number of hours they should spend on the road, for example, or asked to pick up an additional shift even when they need time off to recuperate after a long week at work.
Truck drivers also face increasing pressure and stress, which can further increase driver fatigue and make it harder for them to deal with the other challenges that can raise fatigue.
Truck drivers may have to drive at times when their bodies naturally prefer to sleep.
Most people have a natural circadian rhythm that causes them to want to sleep at night. As the sun goes down, it can prove increasingly difficult to stay awake and alert, especially out on long stretches of road with nothing to break up the monotony.
Many truck drivers, however, have little choice but to work under those conditions. They may find themselves drifting off as the hours drag on, or struggling to stay fully awake in the morning when they get up to start a haul before the sun.
Who Bears Liability for an Accident Involving a Fatigued Truck Driver?
Truck driver fatigue represents a very real problem on the road, and it can cause very real hazards for other drivers. Who bears liability when a fatigued truck driver causes an accident? That may depend on several key factors.
When you suffer serious injuries in a truck accident, you should always consult with an experienced personal injury attorney to learn more about your right to compensation and who may bear liability for the accident.
Truck accidents often involve much more complex investigations, and having an attorney on your side can identify all the elements that contributed to your accident.
The Truck Driver
Most often, the truck driver will bear liability for the decisions he has made while driving, including any decision that leads to fatigued driving. The truck driver must carefully consider his actions on the road and how they can impact others that share the road.
In the case of driving while fatigued, that may mean pulling over and taking a break so that he can continue to drive safely. It may also mean recognizing his limitations and refusing to take loads or routes that he knows he cannot handle.
The Trucking Company
The trucking company may bear liability for a fatigued truck driver accident when the trucking company’s policies contribute to the risk of that type of accident.
For example, some trucking companies may push their drivers to stay on the road despite fatigue or refuse to allow their drivers needed breaks. They may also have policies that encourage exceeding the federally limited number of hours a truck driver can spend on the road.
A trucking company whose policies lead to increased driver fatigue may bear liability when their drivers cause accidents. Potential trucking company liability makes it essential that truck accident victims seek legal assistance when dealing with truck accident claims.
If you suffered injuries in a truck accident involving a fatigued driver, make sure you have a truck accident attorney on your side who can help break down the compensation you deserve and give you a better idea of who may bear liability for your accident.