Fatigued, drowsy, or tired truck drivers are more likely to make mistakes while driving. Unfortunately, those mistakes, no matter how small, can result in catastrophic accidents because of the sheer size of the semi-trailers, 18-wheelers, freight trucks, and tractor-trailers that they operate.
In fact, 13 percent of truck wrecks are typically caused by driver fatigue. Fatigue impairs cognitive capacity, thus affecting the driver’s ability to make sound or smart decisions while they’re on the road. Truckers who haven’t had adequate sleep, are more likely to act in a manner similar to those who drive while drunk.
Studies have shown that sleep-deprived drivers – haven’t slept for 17 to 24 hours – tend to mimic the actions of people who have a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of 0.05 to 0.10, twice the legal limit. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, this drowsy driving kills up to 6,000 people every year.
What are the Risk Factors for Driver Fatigue?
If you want to avoid the consequences of fatigued driving, it is important to identify and understand the factors that can cause it. These factors include:
- Sleep disorders like narcolepsy or sleep apnea
- Inadequate quality sleep
- Extreme stress
- A life change such as the birth of a new baby
- Driving for long hours without taking breaks
- Shift work
These are the main causes of drowsy or fatigued driving. Truck drivers who deal with one or more of these are likely to make grievous errors in judgment while operating such big rigs.
This can, in turn, cause serious accidents that may lead to fatalities.
Tips for Preventing Truck Driver Fatigue
All trucking companies are required to put programs in place to prevent the occurrence of drowsy driving. There are two ways to approach this:
The Company or Employer’s Approach
Commercial trucking companies who employ commercial truck drivers need to implement the following:
- Set up a fatigue management program or system for their drivers
- Ensure that their drivers adhere to the required hours of service regulations set up by the federal and state governments
- Ensure that there’s a limit to the number of hours and consecutive shifts that their drivers can work
- Employ an adequate number of drivers and other supporting staff so that there’s no staff deficit if a few drivers are unable to show up to work
- Train drivers on how to manage fatigue, improve sleep quality, and get adequate rest
- Set up a sleep disorder management or screening system
- Ensure that drivers can get adequate rest and breaks during extended shifts
- Train workers to look out for and identify signs of fatigue in themselves and other drivers
- Mandate their drivers to get a minimum of 8 hours of sleep in between shifts
- Encourage drivers to take the necessary breaks if they’re feeling tired and/or drowsy while they’re behind the wheel
- Possibly set up in-cab monitoring systems or other safety technology to track trucker activities that can track truckers remotely and prevent them from sleeping off while driving
The Commercial Truck Drivers’ Approach
Commercial truckers also have to play their part in ensuring that they get to their destinations safely and without any incidents. To ensure that they’re alert throughout, truck drivers need to implement the following:
- Always get adequate sleep when you’re off-duty – seven to nine hours is great – and before you drive
- Make sure that your other activities when you’re off-duty do not get in the way of getting enough sleep
- Don’t drive for longer than 10 hours a day
- Take steps to improve your sleep quality at home – eliminate all screens from the bedroom, make sure the room is quiet and distraction-free, and turn off all lights
- Seek medical help if you have a sleep disorder
- Drink coffee, chew gum, listen to music or the radio, communicate with other truckers, and roll down the windows for fresh air when you’re on the road
- Take a mandatory 15 to 30-minute nap during your breaks
- If you’re feeling fatigued and tired, pull over and get some sleep
- Pay attention to other drivers and look out for signs of fatigue in them
- If you can, don’t drive for hours late at night
- Don’t drink alcohol or take any medicines that can make you drowsy while you’re behind the wheels
- Eat light meals when you’re driving
How Can You Tell if You’re Fatigued While Driving?
Most truck drivers know when they are tired and in need of rest. But for those who aren’t sure of what fatigued driving looks like, here are some signs to look out for:
- Nodding off or micro-sleeping (few seconds to 30-second naps) while driving
- Suddenly waking up and realizing that you had slept off
- Slower reaction times to incidents on the road
- Feelings of exhaustion and bone-tiredness
- Finding yourself yawning multiple times and in quick succession
- Feeling like you’re in a daze
- Unconsciously drifting into another lane when you didn’t plan to
- Developing tunnel vision and being unaware of what’s going on around you on the road
- Not remembering the last few miles
If you experience one of these, it’s better to pull over and just get some rest. Better to arrive at your destination slightly later than planned than getting in a truck accident.
Do You Suspect that the Truck Driver’s Fatigue Caused Your Accident?
If you have been injured in a truck collision and suspect that the trucker may have been drowsy or fatigued, you need concrete evidence. So, even if you do mention it to your truck accident attorney, they will have to ascertain that your suspicions are right.
A good way to allude to possible driver fatigue as the cause of your traffic crash is if you observed the following before the accident:
- Gradual departure from their lane in a manner that doesn’t make sense
- The truck veered off into oncoming traffic
- The truck appeared to be operated in an erratic manner
- The truck appeared to be driven at high speeds
- The truck driver’s actions seemed to point to the fact that he was unaware of his surroundings
- You had clear visual confirmation that the driver had dozed off behind the wheel at least once
- You noticed that the driver was bleary-eyed, seemed to stumble around, was hesitant when he spoke, or didn’t seem to be “all there” mentally when you exchanged insurance information
If you observe one or more of these signs in a truck driver, you need to mention it to the police or any law enforcement officer at the scene of the accident.
Most importantly, consult with an experienced truck accident attorney and tell them your observations, even if you have exchanged insurance details with the trucker. This way, the lawyer can look into drowsy driving as a possible cause of the crash.
And if there’s proof that the driver was exhausted and shouldn’t have been driving when they did, your attorney can identify other liable parties and get you the compensation that you deserve.