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Drowsy Truck Drivers Pose a Serious Risk of Severe Injury and Death


August 04, 2021

A drowsy driver behind the wheel of a fully loaded tractor-trailer that weighs up to 80,000 pounds presents a particularly serious threat to the safety of other motorists.  Fatigued and sleepy truck drivers constitute such a serious risk to the safety of other vehicle occupants that truck drivers must adhere to special regulations called Hours of Service (HOS) Rules.  These rules are designed to ensure that commercial drivers operating large semi-trucks have adequate rest and break periods before taking to the road.  Unfortunately, truck drivers increase their pay by maximizing the number of runs they complete, so they have a financial incentive to fudge compliance often with the implicit encouragement of their trucking company.

Trucking accident claims and lawsuit tend to be extremely complex, so you should consider talking to a tractor-trailer accident lawyer if you are injured by a drowsy truck driver.  An experienced personal injury attorney will understand the importance of acting promptly to prevent the loss of critical evidence.  Commercial carriers might prematurely place a tractor-trailer back in service.  When a trucking company rushes a semi-truck back into service, important vehicle damage might be repaired, which could hinder efforts of accident reconstruction experts to prove the cause of a crash.  Because onboard electronic data recorders in large trucks also have limited storage capability, critical data might also be erased.  An experienced trucking accident attorney can take actions to preserve this evidence.

While HOS regulations have evolved over time, they currently limit commercial drivers operating vehicles of at least 10,000 pounds to 11 consecutive hours before they must observe a 10 hour off-duty period.  Truck drivers must take a 30-minute break for every 8 hours on-duty, which includes non-driving time.  Drivers must take a 10-hour off-duty break once they have logged a maximum of 14 hours of on-duty time.  Commercial drivers must also limit their time behind the wheel to 70 hours over an 8-day period or 60 hours over a 7-day period.  Drivers can reset this weekly 70 hour driving time restriction by spending 34 hours off-duty.

While commercial truck drivers and trucking companies must adhere to these rules, sometimes commercial carriers impose unrealistic deadlines that pressure their drivers to push themselves despite being fatigued or drowsy.  These unethical trucking companies might even look the other way if the driver attempts to misrepresent schedules to spend more time behind the wheel.

Even when commercial drivers comply with HOS regulations, fatigue and drowsiness can still cause collisions.  Eleven consecutive hours behind the wheel and up to 60 hours in a week pose a daunting challenge to a commercial driver’s endurance and concentration.  Further, the erratic schedule of a truck driver means that he or she might not be able to observe a consistent sleeping pattern.  Although commercial drivers might take a 10-hour break, this does not mean that they are sleeping.  Some drivers feel a compulsion to use sleep aids to fall asleep, but these over-the-counter medications can cause lingering drowsiness, slower reflexes, and impaired judgment.

Drowsy driving threatens the safety of everyone on the road, but this risk is much higher when one of the vehicles involved in a crash is a tractor-trailer.  In fatal two-vehicle collisions involving a large truck and a passenger vehicle, an occupant of the passenger vehicle dies 97 percent of the time according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). 

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Sources:

https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/regulations/hours-service/summary-hours-service-regulations

https://www.iihs.org/topics/fatality-statistics/detail/large-trucks

Category: Auto Accidents

Please Note:
Many of our blog articles discuss the law. All information provided about the law is very general in nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Every situation is different, and should be analyzed by a lawyer who can provide individualized advice based on the facts involved in your unique situation, and a consideration of all of the nuances of the statutes and case law that apply at the time.