Impaired driving (such as fatigue) was reported by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to be the second most common cause of truck accidents in 2020. Like intoxicated driving, driver fatigue leads to drowsiness behind the wheel, reduced focus and attention, slowed reaction times, and impaired judgment.
Therefore, drivers experiencing fatigue are less likely to notice sudden changes that require their quick reaction and may even find it difficult to regain control of the truck. In some cases, the driver may fall asleep entirely behind the wheel. These types of accidents can be fatal.
Causes of Driver Fatigue Reported in Florida Accidents
Generally, fatigue results from a lack of adequate or quality sleep. It is important to maintain good sleep habits on and off work. Several factors may contribute to driver fatigue. Some of these factors include the following:
Driving During ‘Sleeping Hours’
The human body becomes drowsy during certain hours of the day. According to the FMCSA, These hours tend to lie between 12am-6am and 2pm-4pm.
The number of hours spent driving tends to affect drowsiness behind the wheel. Truck drivers are particularly prone to overworking as they often have to meet tight deadlines, causing them to drive for several hours without rest. Because exhaustion can lead to fatal truck accidents, federal law regulates the hours of service a commercial driver must adhere to.
Monotonous Tasks and Extended Periods of Inactivity
Driving on the highway can have a lulling effect due to its repetitive nature. Roads can be awfully quiet at night due to decreased levels of inactivity. In addition to fatigue, these factors can cause the driver to feel drowsy and sleep behind the wheel.
Medication and Undiagnosed Sleeping Disorders
Some medications may cause drowsiness and should not be taken before operating heavy machinery, such as auto vehicles. Further, some drivers may have undiagnosed sleeping disorders such as sleep apnea, which increases their chances of sleeping behind the wheel.
According to a study conducted by The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), long-haul truck drivers tend to average 3.83 hours of sleep for those on a 13-hour night shift or 5.38 hours for those on a 10-hour day shift. Drivers who do not get adequate hours of sleep and rest are more prone to drowsiness and reduced alertness.
Effects of Driver Fatigue
When drivers are tired, their ability to safely operate a vehicle is significantly lowered. Operating commercial trucks require extra attention and skill, both of which are impaired by fatigue. Fatigue affects a driver’s abilities in the following ways:
- Slowed reaction time to changes on the road, other vehicles, and pedestrians
- Experiencing microsleep episodes that can last up to 30 seconds
- Swaying between lanes or drifting off the road
- Accelerating due to unconscious pressure on the gas pedal
- Impaired decision-making; not risk averse.
Fatigued drivers may fall asleep and veer off the road. Jerking awake can cause them to overcorrect the steering wheel, leading to the truck spinning or rollover. Truck drivers need to be alert and well-rested to drive safely.
Preventing Driver Fatigue
In 2017, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) determined fatigue to be the cause of 9,100 crashes which resulted in 795 fatalities and 50,000 injuries. Preventing driver fatigue is a collaborative effort between drivers, their employers, and the government. Drivers and their employers can do the following:
- Implement policies that manage maximum consecutive shifts and hour limits per day
- Trucking companies should ensure sufficient driver staffing and promote regular rest or sleeping patterns
- Drivers who feel fatigued should pull over for a quick nap and a coffee. Truck drivers are advised to take breaks every two hours.
- Watch for signs of fatigue in your coworkers and speak up if you feel too exhausted to drive
Federal law requires commercial truck drivers to adhere to the Hours of Service stipulated by the FMCSA. To ensure truck drivers stay alert and awake during their shifts, the hours of service regulation permit drivers to be on duty for a specific number and length of rest periods. The hours of service regulations include these provisions:
- Drivers must take 30-minute breaks within the first 8 hours of a shift.
- The average work week for a truck driver should be utmost 60 or 70 hours
- Truck drivers must take 34 or more consecutive hours off duty once they exceed their weekly working hours.
Some drivers may resort to drugs to stay alert on the road for long hours. The FMCSA mandates that truck drivers undergo random drug and alcohol tests and mandatory drug and alcohol tests after an accident.
Reach Out to an Experienced FloridaTruck Accident Lawyer Today
Proving driver fatigue as the cause of an accident can be tricky. However, if you believe driver fatigue to be the cause of an accident, your truck accident lawyer will help you to build a case.
At Wooten, Kimbrough, Damaso & Dennis, we will collect evidence to support your case by examining the driver’s Hours of Service logs, their phone logs at the time of the accident, and the truck’s dispatch records. Reach out to our experienced truck accident attorneys to fight for your case. Call us at (407) 843-7060 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.