As the driver of a private vehicle, you have the option to pull over when you feel tired. Commercial truck drivers usually don’t have this choice. They’re paid to spend many hours a day on the road, regardless if they’re too tired to operate a truck safely.
Whether it’s pressure from their bosses, greed, or the lack of realization about their own tiredness, too many commercial truck drivers are on the road when it’s not safe for them or anyone else. It should come as no surprise then to learn that driving while drowsy is a major cause for truck accidents across the United States.
Drowsy Driving Nearly as Dangerous as Drunk Driving
Recently, the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) conducted a survey that determined a person being awake for 17 consecutive hours produced the same effect as having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of five percent. The legal definition of impairment in Alabama is eight percent. The NSF also identified five factors that lead to fatigue while driving, all of which affect people who drive a truck for a living more than others. These include:
- Erratic behavior caused by sleepiness: While falling asleep at the wheel is an obvious cause of trucking accidents, it’s far from the only one. Sleepy drivers engage in other types of dangerous behavior, including driving too fast and exercising poor judgment. Like driving while intoxicated, driving while drowsy causes slower reaction times, poor coordination, lack of concentration, and unclear vision.
- Highway hypnosis: This condition occurs after long stretches of driving, with or without passengers in the vehicle. It causes drivers to be less aware of their surroundings and almost as though they are operating in a dream instead of real life.
- Shift work: People who work irregular hours, including those who work overnight shifts, are more likely to feel drowsy while driving than those who work a typical daytime schedule. Driving at night is already more challenging due to the reduced visibility and dealing with the constant glare from headlights and stoplights. Night shift workers must also fight the body’s natural tendency to desire sleep once it’s dark outside. This is one reason why crashes involving commercial trucks peak in the overnight hours.
- Sleep apnea: According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association (FMCSA), up to 25 percent of big rig drivers suffer from sleep apnea. This condition disturbs normal breathing patterns and makes it challenging for people who have it to get a good night’s rest. Although federal laws prohibit those with sleep apnea from driving a commercial truck, many people who apply for this work don’t know that they have the condition. Sometimes employers do know about a trucker’s sleep apnea and insist that he or she drive anyway.
- Sleep deprivation: With their regular long shifts, commercial truck drivers are more likely than other drivers to suffer from chronic sleep deprivation. The NSF reports that the risk of a crash increases by up to five times when a driver has had less than eight hours of sleep the night before the accident.
There’s also the fact that employers may offer incentives to drivers who disregard safety rules such as a mandatory rest period and focus on production instead. In addition to providing bonuses for deliveries that arrive on time or ahead of schedule, employers may illegally threaten to fire drivers who don’t meet their daily quota even if it means compromising on safety.
Laws to Prevent Drowsy Driving
Together with the FMSCA, the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) has helped to push through legislation aimed at reducing these accidents. Truck drivers may not work more than 70 hours in eight days or drive more than 11 hours after being off duty for 10 hours. Even so, it’s not uncommon to falsify driving and rest break reports due to employer pressure. This is one reason why accidents between big rigs and passenger vehicles keep happening.
You Need an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney
Trucking companies have the resources to protect themselves from personal injury claims even if it means denying the truth. If you have been injured by a commercial truck driver, we invite you to contact the experienced Alabama truck accident attorneys at Taylor Martino in Mobile, Alabama at 1-800-256-7728 to request a free and confidential review of your case. We’re prepared to fight for your right to receive fair compensation and are not intimidated by commercial trucking companies, their lawyers, or their insurance agents.