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How Often Do Sleepy Truck Drivers Lead to an Accident?

In December of 2011, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued new rules in an attempt to curtail a growing problem across the country; truck drivers falling asleep.  The hours of service rules for truck drivers were enacted because nearly 4,000 people die every year in large truck crashes.

The rule was complicated, but it basically boiled down to two updated requirements.  One is that drivers take a 30-minute rest break within the first 8 hours of their shift so they can stay alert on the road.  The other updated the use of the 34-hour rest period, known as the “restart”.  In the interest of safety, the 2011 rule restricted drivers to using the restart only once every seven days and it required that the restart period includes at least two periods of rest between 1:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. Basically, it required that drivers have the opportunity to take a very real rest and catch up on sleep before working another very long week.  The net effect of these changes was to reduce the average maximum week a driver could work from 82 hours to 70 hours.

Accidents caused by Sleeping Truck Drivers

According to NHTSA’s National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Study (NMVCCS), drowsy drivers involved in a crash are twice as likely to make performance errors as compared to drivers who are not fatigued. In extreme cases, a drowsy driver may fall asleep at the wheel.

Unfortunately, driver fatigue is a common problem and they often cause accidents when they fall asleep at the wheel. On June 30th, a tractor-trailer hit at least ten parked cars in Long Beach in California. While fortunately no one was injured in this accident, there are countless other news reports of a commercial driver falling asleep at the wheel and injuring or even killing others.

Last year, on the other side of the country in Atlanta a truck driver fell asleep at the wheel leading to a crash that claimed the lives of five Georgia Southern University nursing students. Sadly, these sort of accidents happen more often than we would like to see.

The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Drivers

Not getting the recommended amount of sleep can cause you to be drowsy which leads to many problems, particularly for drivers.  According to numerous studies including by the US Department of Transportation study conducted by  Sleep deprivation has been proven to affect driving ability in four areas.

  1. It impairs coordination
  2. It causes longer reaction times
  3. It impairs judgment
  4. It impairs memory and the ability to retain information.

Driving while you are sleepy or drowsy has been equated to driving while you are intoxicated.  However, unlike alcohol, there may be no evidence that can prove a driver was driving for too long, which is why the hours-of-service laws require that drivers keep logbooks.

Reasons for Drowsy Drivers

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that perhaps as many as 100,000 accidents annually can be traced to drivers who actually doze off behind the wheel of their vehicles.

Sleep apnea has become a major issue across the country. Studies have indicated that the condition is a major cause of daytime sleepiness. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration suspects that as many as 28% of commercial truck drivers have sleep apnea. According to the National Heart, Lunch, and Blood Institute sleep apnea is characterized as a disorder in which the sufferers have one or more instances of pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while sleeping.  This causes sleepers to wake up tired.

The length of time sleeping drivers often work very long hours and are not able to get the required amount of sleep that they need. According to the National Institute of Health, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, most adults need at least 7 hours of sleep in a day in order to properly function

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If you were severely injured in an accident with a truck or commercial vehicle, please call us for a free consultation at (215) 246-9000 or contact a truck accident lawyer online.

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