Drowsy driving is a deadly problem that causes over 100,000 accidents in the United States each year. These accidents cause an estimated 40,000 injuries and claim 1,500 lives. Long hours, long distances, and tight schedules make truck drivers especially prone to drowsy driving. Studies conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association show that up to 65% of truck drivers admit to having experienced fatigue while driving, and 75% have admitted making at least one driving error while fatigued. Most disturbing is that the same study showed that 13% have actually fallen asleep at the wheel.
The Impact of Sleep Deprivation on Driving
Drowsy driving can be just as deadly as drinking and driving. Research has demonstrated that drivers who are awake more than 16-17 hours have the same level of diminished capacity as individuals who have a BAC level of .5%. Thus, it is not surprising that drowsy drivers suffer from impaired coordination, slowed reaction times, impaired judgment, and inability to process and retain critical information such as from speedometers or road signs. Sleep deprivation diminishes the driver’s ability to remain focused on the road and can lead to daydreaming or wandering thoughts that can delay reaction time.
Stepping Up Enforcement of Rules
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration rules prohibit truck commercial drivers from operating the vehicle beyond safe limits. For example, the rules limit drivers to driving less than 11-hours per day while carrying cargo. This is reduced to 10 hours if the commercial driver is operating a bus or van carrying passengers. Following each shift, drivers must have 10 consecutive hours off. Further, FMCSA rules prohibit drivers from spending more than 60 hours on duty during a 7 day period.
Even with strict rules and enforcement, drowsy driving is a problem that continues to claim lives. To help stem the problem, many companies are testing their drivers for signs of sleep apnea and the FMCSA is stepping up enforcement of existing rules and is considering new rules to address this common problem.
Liability for Drowsy Driving
Liability for an accident caused by drowsy driving can fall on the truck driver or the company the driver works for. When preparing a case based on allegations of drowsy driving, an individual’s truck accident lawyer will request to examine the driver’s log books and the company’s records to determine whether FMCSA rules were violated and whether the driver has a history of drowsy driving behaviors.