The connection between driver fatigue and the increased risk of a truck accident is not new. In 1935 the National Safety Council published a report called “Too Long at the Wheel”, which first established a credible connection.
Despite decades of trying to improve the situation, accidents involving trucks and other heavy commercial vehicles are still all too common. Part of the problem is our 24-hour society. The National sleep foundation has estimated that 37% of American adults suffer regular activity interference due to a lack of sleep.
The other side of the problem is the development of rolling logistic networks. Rather than carry stock, many companies now try to avoid having dead money in local stock levels, instead relying on “just-in-time” logistics. This not only puts more commercial vehicles on the roads, but it also increases the pressure on drivers and managers to meet deadlines and have deliveries in the right place at the right time.
Despite improvements in the law and appreciation of the problem, most truck drivers exceed the recommended safe hours. Many often clock 12 hours driving a day, with some regularly exceeding that amount. Shockingly, one in four American truckers admit to falling asleep at the wheel at some stage.
Although it is disputed by the industry, independent data suggests that up to 13% of commercial truck related accidents are caused by driver fatigue. Around 3400 people in the USA die each year as a result of an accident involving a truck, which means nearly 350 people per year are killed by tired drivers on our roads.
Why Are There So Many Truck Related Accidents?
The simple answer is competition. For every well-run, safe and compliant trucking company out there, you will find several motor carriers who are willing to compromise on safety in order to maximise their profit margins. The result is a race to the bottom where everyone is trying to cut corners and keep existing business.
Also, due to the long hours, the monotony, and the time away from home, there is constant turnover of drivers in the trucking industry. This often leads to increased driver fatigue, due to the necessary covering of an unsettled workforce.
Although the dangers of sleep deprivation a well-known and a wide variety of training materials are available to trucking companies, most do not even screen their drivers to see if they suffer from sleep disorders. Many never provide any training or speak about being aware of the dangers of fatigue.
Industry figures suggest a mortality rate as low as 2% for accidents involving trucks with fatigue is a contributory factor. However, in contrast several major studies have concluded that the largest easily identifiable cause of trucking accidents is driver fatigue.
The bottom line is that someone who has been driving for 14 hours straight is simply not going to have a good level of alertness. They will not be able to respond quickly and safely in situations where people who were not fatigued could. If fatigue is the cause of an accident, then human negligence is undeniably at the root of the damage caused.
What Happens In A Lawsuit As A Result Of Driver Fatigue?
When a crash involving a truck is suspected to involve some element of driver fatigue in it, the claims that arise will focus on how the driver and carrier company complied with the relevant regulations.
The hours the driver can work and has worked will be looked at. It will have to be established if all parties took reasonable steps to minimize the risk of drivers exceeding a safe number of driving hours each day.
Federal regulations state that a “commercial motor vehicle carrier shall not require or permit the driver to operate a commercial vehicle while the driver’s ability or alertness is so impaired, also likely to become impaired, through fatigue.”
In order to comply with this regulation, carriers must be able to prove they have a proper system in place to avoid and manage fatigue effectively. This means they have to prove that they adequately monitor drivers through training and during their day-to-day job. Log books should be kept of driver activity and regular testing of drivers for alcohol and substance abuse should also be recorded.
However, holding a trucking company accountable for injuries sustained through a truck accident can sometimes be difficult. In such a competitive industry, companies are ready to throw money at hiding the problem as well as not preserving evidence that would be required to prove liability.
On top of that, driver fatigue may only be one of several contributory factors established in the cause of an accident. Prompt investigation by specialist truck accident lawyers would give you a better chance of pinning down what caused an accident and fighting for the correct amount of compensation.
What To Do If You Have Been Involved In A Truck Accident?
Call an experienced attorney. If you were hurt during a truck accident then you may be able to file a personal injury claim against the responsible parties. This may be the driver or it may be against the company, or both.
You may be able to claim compensation to help cover your past and future medical expenses, lost wages and income, as well as pain and suffering. If you have a relative who was fatally injured as a result of a trucking accident, you can file a wrongful death suit against the responsible parties.
Whatever the situation, if you or a loved one have been involved in an accident that involves a commercial heavy vehicle, then you should not delay in making contact with us here at Donaghue & Labrum so that we can quickly assess the situation and act rapidly to maximise your chances of receiving full compensation.