For many truck drivers, the Northeast region sits as the final delivery point—the last stop on a journey that stretches hundreds of miles from where they picked up the load in Los Angeles or Houston. Drivers may already feel tired when they face the often-congested I-81 heading into the city. Once the I-81 project begins, they will face heavy construction in the area, as well.
If you sustained injuries or lost a loved one in a Syracuse truck accident, an experienced attorney can help you find answers as to who or what caused the collision, not only by reading the police report and talking to witnesses but by looking at the personnel and maintenance records for the truck driver and the truck.
Some of the information that the attorney will want to review includes the logbooks that track how long the driver was on duty when the crash occurred. Fatigue causes serious impairments to the skills a driver needs to operate a motor vehicle safely.
What Causes Truck Driver Fatigue?
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the federal agency tasked with regulating and overseeing the U.S. trucking industry, fatigue results from mental or physical exertion that impairs performance. About 13 percent of all truck drivers involved in an accident admit to feeling fatigued at the time of the crash.
Some of the causes of truck driver fatigue include:
- Long working hours. The FMCSA has enacted Hours of service regulations to ensure that truck drivers take regular off-duty breaks. However, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), surveys indicate that drivers regularly work more hours than legally permitted.
- Often dull scenery. In addition to long working hours, long-haul truck drivers who travel across state lines often work those hours while driving through areas where the scenery features little to keep the driver alert and engaged.
- Traffic congestion, which can cause mental exertion and lead to mistakes that can cause accidents.
- Disrupting the circadian rhythm, the body’s instinct to remain awake during daylight and fall asleep during the hours of darkness. Many drivers choose to drive during the nighttime hours to take advantage of fewer other vehicles on the road. The FMCSA found that driver alertness is affected more by the time of day than by the number of hours the driver has worked, though both factors increase the risk of a fatigue-related truck accident.
- Sleep inertia. Many drivers choose to use their off-duty time to sleep in the sleeper berth of their trucks. However, studies indicate that a truck driver’s greatest risk of experiencing an accident is within the first hour after waking. Sleep inertia is a condition that occurs in the first hour after waking that causes an impairment of short-term memory, vigilance, cognitive functioning, reaction time, and the ability to resist sleep.
- Sleep apnea, which is a sleep-related breathing disorder that causes the sufferer to temporarily stop breathing during sleep. These temporary pauses result in the person getting a full night’s sleep and yet still not feel rested, resulting in fatigue. Research from the FMCSA indicates that nearly one-third of all commercial drivers have sleep apnea. The FMCSA notes that regulations don’t specifically address sleep apnea but that truckers with the disorder can lawfully drive as long as they obtain treatment that renders them medically qualified.
- Alcohol or drugs. While drivers cannot use alcohol or drugs during on-duty hours, truck drivers sometimes feel tempted to indulge all the same. Many of these substances cause drowsiness in addition to other impairments. Further, many drivers do not realize that certain over-the-counter or prescription medications that were legally obtained and used for a legitimate purpose also have impairing effects, including causing drowsiness. Existing fatigue can worsen this effect.
Why Truck Driver Fatigue Constitutes Such a Serious Issue in Syracuse
Fatigue constitutes a serious concern for truck drivers, who already must operate a vehicle that is harder to maneuver than most. Fatigue causes many negative effects, such as slowed response times to changing conditions, like congestion or construction. Fatigue can also cause the driver to drift from their travel lane or to experience tunnel vision. The fatigued driver struggles to make good decisions and may feel prone to microsleeps, brief sleep episodes that can last for up to 30 seconds at a time.
In the Northeast area of the nation, Syracuse sits hundreds or even thousands of miles from some of the biggest export areas in the U.S. As the trucking industry provides the main source of transport for goods in the U.S., the products individuals in Syracuse use every day required someone to drive many hours to bring them here.
These trips often involve significant traffic congestion, which often requires a higher level of alertness and defensiveness. Depending on the season, drivers may arrive in poor weather as well. Work zones along the way pose more opportunities for mental fatigue and a need for fast responses to the actions of other drivers, or even workers and equipment in the work zone.
Federal Hours of Service Regulations Aim to Cut Down Fatigue Risks
To cut back on the risks to other drivers posed by fatigued truck drivers, the FMCSA instituted hours of service regulations that determine how long a driver can operate a commercial truck before the driver must take off-duty time. Lawmakers modified the rules in 2020 to provide some flexibility for drivers to arrange their driving schedules.
Below, we summarize the hours of service regulations for truck drivers:
- Long-haul drivers carrying property can drive a maximum of 11 hours after a consecutive 10-hour off-duty break.
- Drivers cannot drive past the 14th consecutive hour on-duty following 10 consecutive hours off-duty. Note: On-duty time does not necessarily involve driving, as other tasks such as loading cargo or doing paperwork are also part of the job.
- Drivers must take a 30-minute break for every eight hours on duty. The driver can satisfy this break requirement by either going off-duty or remaining on-duty but not driving.
- Drivers cannot drive after 60 hours on-duty in seven days, or 70 hours on-duty in eight days. The consecutive day period starts after the driver has taken an off-duty break of at least 34 consecutive hours.
- Drivers can split their off-duty 10-hour break period if they spend at least seven consecutive off-duty hours in the sleeper berth and at least two off-duty hours either in or out of the sleeper berth.
- Drivers can extend the 11-hour maximum driving limit and the 14-hour maximum on-duty time by two hours if there are adverse weather conditions.
- Local drivers enjoy exemption from hours of service requirements as long as they do not travel more than 150 miles away from their normal work reporting location, they return to that location when the workday is finished, and they do not work more than 14 consecutive hours.
Truck Driver Fatigue Spells Liability
The trucking industry in the U.S. must abide by strict regulations. Drivers have to maintain electronic logbooks that enter their on-duty hours so that regulators can track compliance with the hours of service rules. Drivers also must undergo regular physical exams to ensure their fitness to drive. If a driver has sleep apnea, they will have to obtain treatment for the disorder and have the treating physician sign off that the driver can safely drive a large truck.
Despite these regulations, however, truck drivers and trucking companies often bend or break the rules to protect their bottom lines. Unfortunately, protecting the bottom line by driving fatigued can result in liability for both the driver and the company. Trucking companies face vicarious liability for the actions of their drivers during on-duty hours.
Additionally, trucking companies must ensure that their drivers maintain logbooks and receive clearance from medical personnel to drive. Do note, however, that approximately half of all truck drivers are self-employed, meaning they do not work for a trucking company. In these cases, the onus is on the driver alone to ensure that they met federal trucking regulations.
To establish that someone bears liability for the accident that caused your injury, you must show:
- The at-fault party owed you a duty of care. The duty of care refers to how a reasonable individual in similar circumstances would respond to protect the health and property of others. For example, truck drivers owe other drivers a duty of care to operate their trucks safely and legally. Trucking companies owe the public a duty of care to ensure that their drivers operate their vehicles safely and legally and in adherence to all federal and state requirements.
- The at-fault party breached the duty of care. The breach refers to the actions that the at-fault party took that contradicted the duty of care owed at the time. Fatigued driving violates the duty of care owed by both a truck driver and a trucking company, as it constitutes unsafe driving behavior and violates FMCSA rules regarding the medical fitness of the driver.
- This breach led to the accident that caused your injuries and resulted in expenses and other impacts.
Let Us Help You Seek Compensation for Your Syracuse Truck Accident Injuries
Do you have reason to believe that the truck driver who caused your accident felt fatigued at the time of the accident? An experienced truck accident attorney from Finkelstein & Partners can assist you in determining all sources of liability in your accident, as well as all insurance resources that you can access to provide compensation for your injuries.
Other services truck accident clients may receive include:
- Establishment of a value to the claim based on the expenses and impacts you have already incurred as well as those you will likely incur.
- The filing of your truck accident claim in court within the three-year statute of limitations.
- Skilled negotiation with the at-fault party’s insurance provider to garner a fair settlement offer on your behalf.
- Attendance and representation of your case at all pre-trial conferences and hearings.
- Guidance throughout the legal process as to your options for accepting or rejecting a settlement or proceeding to litigation. Your attorney will provide you with the information you need to make important decisions in your case.
- The collection of evidence and witness testimony to prove your case in court. The type of documentation your attorney will need to see from the truck driver or trucking company is often extensive, as is the medical documentation to demonstrate the seriousness of your injuries.
- If you cannot settle, your attorney may present your case to the court.
- Assistance collecting your settlement or award.
Talk about your Syracuse truck accident with an attorney. During your consultation, you can discuss the details of your accident, ask questions about your legal options, and determine your eligibility to pursue compensation for the full cost of your injuries. Don’t try to handle your Syracuse truck accident claim on your own; reach out to an experienced Syracuse truck accident attorney today.
Mr. Finkelstein is the Managing Partner of Finkelstein & Partners, LLP. He has become a noted consumer activist through his representation of injured individuals against corporate wrongdoers and irresponsible parties.
An accomplished litigator, Mr. Finkelstein has represented Plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic personal injury cases. He has successfully handled dozens of multi-million dollar cases.