Every year, truck driver fatigue causes thousands of accidents on American roads. Truck drivers who do not get sufficient rest lose the ability to act safely. They make unfortunate mistakes that lead to severe crashes.
A truck driver who stays behind the wheel for too many hours is acting negligently. The driver is usually responsible if their lack of rest causes an accident. If you are hurt in a truck accident and manage to prove driver’s fatigue, you can seek sizable compensation.
Take a closer look at truck driver fatigue and its legal consequences.
Disturbing Truck Driver Fatigue Statistics
Truck driver fatigue is a widespread problem. Truckers try to work long hours to earn more money and satisfy their employers. While doing that, they forget about safety and put people around them in danger.
A recent study monitored 80 truck drivers and their behavior and found disturbing results:
- Truck drivers sleep less than 5 hours a day.
- 45 percent of truck drivers had at least one six-minute interval of drowsiness while driving.
- The most common time for drowsiness was late night and early morning.
Another study shows that 13 percent of large truck accidents occur because the driver does not get sufficient rest.
Over 4,000 people die in truck crashes every year. Hundreds of these deaths happen because of truck driver fatigue.
Laws That Regulate Working Hours to Prevent Fatigue
To prevent truck driver fatigue, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) created a set of clear regulations that truck drivers need to follow.
These hours of service (HOS) regulations help drivers understand what to do to get sufficient rest. The rules can vary slightly depending on the truck and cargo type.
According to these regulations, a truck driver:
- Needs to take a 30-minute break after eight hours of consecutive driving.
- Can drive a maximum of 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours of rest.
- Cannot drive after 60/70 hours behind the wheel for 7/8 consecutive days (this means that a driver cannot exceed 60/70 hours of driving in a seven- or eight-day period).
In 24 hours, the driver can have a 14-hour workday and a 10-hour resting time. During the 14-hour workday, they can only drive for 11 hours. The three hours they have left are for eating, showering, and resting.
Some exceptions to these rules exist. For example, the driver can extend the 11-hour driving streak if the weather is bad.
Truck drivers need to track their driving and resting hours with a log book or an Electronic On-Board Recorder (EOBR).
Drivers often set their own schedules. They are responsible for following HOS regulations and being alert on the road.
However, some truck drivers break the rules because:
- They do not have a clear understanding of the regulations.
- They want to finish the job faster to get more money.
- The employer pressures the driver to finish the job faster.
Studies show that driving for over 20 hours without sleep is the same as driving with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent. While such intoxication is legal in the USA, it can still impair the truck driver’s ability to act safely on the road.
Truck drivers who break HOS rules, stay on the road for too long and end up causing accidents are acting negligently.
Who Is Responsible for Truck Driver’s Fatigue?
Several parties may be responsible when a fatigued truck driver causes an accident. Figuring out who is liable is the key to filing claims and lawsuits.
While it may seem that the truck driver is solely responsible for driving while tired, it is not always the case. Depending on the circumstances of the accident, the insurance company and attorneys can determine the liability of these parties:
If the truck driver willingly decided to exceed working hours and broke traffic laws due to extensive drowsiness, they are liable. The truck driver is also solely responsible if the accident happens during off-duty hours.
While it is up to the driver to follow regulations, the trucking company that hires them should also explain the consequences of driver’s fatigue and remind employees about negligence on the road.
You can hold the trucking company liable for the accident if it forces the driver to drive outside the allowed working hours.
Even if you cannot prove that the trucking company pressured the driver, you can still file a claim against it. As an employer, the trucking company is responsible for the driver’s actions if they are acting within the scope of their work.
Truck driver fatigue does not just occur when the driver works beyond the allowed hours. It could happen for many reasons, including health issues like sleep apnea or insomnia. Proving this type of fatigue can be more challenging.
How to Prove Truck Driver’s Fatigue
In some truck accident claims and lawsuits, proving driver’s fatigue is the key to recovering fair damages. To prove that the driver was drowsy, the plaintiff would need to:
Collect a Copy of a Police Report
The police report is one of the essential documents in a truck accident case. Police have sufficient training and experience to understand whether the truck driver is tired or drowsy. They can include this information in the report.
The report will also describe the circumstances of the accident. For example, if the driver falls asleep and then awakes to brake suddenly, the truck will leave specific skid marks. It is possible to use this information to prove fatigue.
An attorney can also come back to the accident scene to take photos of the skid marks or obtain camera footage from nearby properties (if any).
Record Time of Day
While drivers are free to choose their working hours (as long as they are not violating the HOS), driving during the night usually leads to fatigue. Most fatigue-related crashes occur between midnight and 6 a.m., or late afternoon.
During these periods, the alertness of the person’s body is the lowest due to the change in the circadian rhythms. If the accident happens during these hours, it may be easier to prove the truck driver’s fatigue.
Obtain the Driver’s Medical History
While it is not easy, sometimes it is possible to obtain the driver’s medical history that includes such problems as sleep apnea or other sleep disorders, such as insomnia. This can help prove that the driver is prone to fatigue.
Talk to Witnesses
To prove that the driver was asleep during the accident, attorneys and victims can speak to the eyewitnesses. Sleepy drivers have a delayed reaction. That is why they usually do not do anything to avoid the crash until the last moment. If the driver is asleep, they do not avoid the crash at all.
Eyewitnesses can testify about the driver’s behavior just before the accident. Camera footage can also contribute to the strength of the case.
Check Log Books and EOBR
Unless the driver manages to falsify logbooks and EOBR information, you can find records about the driving and resting time. If these periods exceed those stated in HOS regulations, it can help prove the driver’s fatigue.
Collect Other Evidence
If log books and EOBR do not provide sufficient information, you can collect other evidence that includes:
- Toll receipts—When the truck driver pays tolls on the road, there is always a record. Attorneys can use this information to understand how long the truck driver has been sitting behind the wheel without taking breaks.
- Gas receipts—Similar to toll receipts, gas receipts (or credit card statements) can demonstrate the mileage and help calculate the time between stops.
- Hotel records—When truckers sleep in hotels, you can get information about check-in and check-out times. This data can help determine whether the truck driver had enough rest.
Surveillance cameras on the roads can provide valuable evidence as well. They can show how long the truck driver has traveled without taking breaks.
The Importance of a Truck’s Black Box
A truck’s black box or electronic control module is a program that records information about the truck.
Similar to plane black boxes, these recorders can provide valuable information about what happened before, during, and after the accident, such as:
- The vehicle’s speed before the accident
- Acceleration and deceleration before the accident
- Usage of cruise control
- Whether the driver used brakes right before the accident
- How long a truck was running before the crash
This information can be sufficient to prove that the driver was drowsy or asleep during the accident and failed to act safely on the road.
Unfortunately, not all trucks have black boxes. Older vehicles (manufactured before 1990) may not have them installed.
How to Get a Truck’s Black Box
The black box is the property of the trucking company. If the trucking company is liable for the accident, it is in its best interests to prevent the victim from obtaining the box. While the black box usually rewrites records after 30 days, the truck owner can erase them earlier.
That is why it is imperative to obtain the black box as soon after the accident as possible. To do this, attorneys send a preservation-of-evidence letter to the trucking company.
This letter advises the trucking company about the possibility of litigation and the importance of preserving the black box as evidence. Once the letter reaches the company, they have a duty to protect the evidence. This minimizes the chances of them tampering with the data.
Then the attorney can request the data from the black box through a court order. Once you gain access to the black box data, you need to hire an expert who can interpret the information.
Proving Negligence in a Truck Accident
Proving truck driver fatigue is just one aspect of demonstrating negligence.
To seek compensation after a truck accident, you need to show that:
- The truck driver had a legal duty of care to you—This is usually the easy part since everyone on the road must act reasonably and safely to prevent injuries to other traffic participants.
- The truck driver breached the above duty of care—That is where proving driver fatigue comes in. If you can demonstrate that the truck driver exceeded driving hours and failed to get sufficient rest, this helps prove the breach.
- The breach caused the injuries—You would have to show that driver’s fatigue was the main cause of your injuries in an accident. For example, the driver fell asleep, ran a red light, and hit your vehicle. You sustained a spinal injury.
- Injuries caused damage—You have to demonstrate the injuries led to economic and non-economic damages. For example, a spinal injury requires surgery expenses and causes a disability that reduces your quality of life.
If you can prove all aspects of negligence, you can seek compensation. Every dollar you ask for must be backed by evidence, such as bills, doctor’s reports, financial statements, and expert witness testimony.
Since negligence is the backbone of any personal injury case, it requires substantial attention. Without legal assistance, proving some of the above aspects can be complicated.
This is especially true in cases when you have to obtain such evidence as camera footage, black box records, medical records, and the like. While an attorney knows how to get this information, a person without legal experience could fail to do so and hurt the case.
Consequences of Truck Driver Fatigue
The consequences of truck driver fatigue are usually severe. People who suffer the most in these accidents are occupants of smaller vehicles. When thousands of tons of metal crash into a passenger car, catastrophic injuries are nearly impossible to avoid.
Recovering from injuries sustained in a truck accident is time-consuming, painful, and expensive. That is why victims can seek compensation if they can prove negligence. Demonstrating that the driver was drowsy or asleep during the accident can help build a strong case.
Truck driver fatigue is rarely easy to prove. It requires collecting hard-to-find evidence. To improve your chances of obtaining compensation, it may help to consult a truck accident lawyer.
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.