Truck drive asleep in truck

Semi-trucks and other commercial vehicles transport a majority of the goods we use every day, but they can also be a major hazard for other motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians. This is especially true when truck drivers aren’t sufficiently rested before getting behind the wheel.

A fatigued truck driver is likely to see their driving performance noticeably decline, making them much more likely to be involved in an accident. And when large trucks are involved in accidents, other drivers tend to suffer the greatest harm.

If you’ve been involved in an accident with a fatigued truck driver, talk to the St. Louis truck accident lawyers at the Sumner Law Group, LLC. With more than 50 years of experience handling personal injury cases, we’ve helped our clients recover millions in compensation for their injuries.

We have the skill, tenacity, and resources to build a strong case against the fatigued truck driver or other party who should be held liable for your injuries. Get a free initial consultation today to learn more about how we can help you with your case.

How Dangerous Is It to Drive a Truck While Tired?

Driving any vehicle while fatigued is extremely dangerous. According to one study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research (NCSDR), driving while fatigued impacts driving performance in the following ways:

  • Slower reaction times – Being able to safely handle any vehicle, especially a large truck, requires the ability to read the environment around you and make quick reactions. Any decline in reaction times will make it much harder for a driver to avoid a collision in an emergency situation.
  • Impaired cognitive function – When we’re fatigued, processing and interpreting information takes longer than normal. This is dangerous for drivers because these information-processing issues make it harder for drivers to recognize a dangerous situation and react appropriately.
  • Reduced vigilance – The brain’s ability to handle attention-based tasks declines significantly when someone is fatigued. A fatigued driver may also experience short-term memory decline, which can contribute to an accident.
  • Falling asleep at the wheel – In cases of extreme fatigue, a driver may fall asleep behind the wheel, causing them to completely lose control of their vehicle. Even if the driver falls asleep for only a few seconds, that’s more than enough time for them to drift out of their lane or off the road, causing a crash.

All of these dangers are exacerbated by the physical characteristics of large trucks. Semi-trucks and other commercial vehicles are approximately 20 times heavier than most passenger vehicles, and they’re also longer and sit higher off the road. This means that semi-trucks are harder to control and, when accidents occur, they’re much more likely to cause severe injuries because of the truck’s additional size and weight.

Drowsy Driving Statistics

Plenty of research shows that drowsy driving is a major problem among truck drivers and passenger car drivers. Here are a few facts about drowsy driving accidents:

  • NHTSA reports that 697 people died from drowsy driving accidents nationwide in one recent year.
  • Additional research from NHTSA shows that around 91,000 police-reported crashes involved drowsy drivers, leading to roughly 50,000 injuries.
  • The National Sleep Foundation reports that going 24 hours without sleep produces a level of impairment similar to a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.10 percent, which is above the legal limit.

Truck Driver Hours-of-Service Regulations

Regulators and public safety advocates have long recognized that fatigue is a significant safety concern for truck drivers. To ensure truck drivers are sufficiently rested before driving, regulators instituted a series of rules governing how long a truck driver can drive and work without a mandatory break or off-duty time.

These rules are commonly referred to as hours-of-service guidelines, and they’re set by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). In a nutshell, here’s what those regulations state:

  • Truck drivers may drive for up to 11 hours after being off duty for at least 10 consecutive hours.
  • Truck drivers have a 14-hour on-duty work limit after being off duty for at least 10 consecutive hours. This 14-hour window begins as soon as the truck driver starts their workday, not when they start driving.
  • Truck drivers must take a 30-minute break if it’s been a cumulative eight hours since their last break of at least 30 minutes.
  • Drivers may not drive after driving 60 or 70 hours in any seven-day or eight-day workweek.

Unfortunately, many drivers and trucking companies either ignore or find ways to skirt these rules. Truck drivers have a major financial incentive to make their deliveries as quickly as possible, and trucking companies have been known to turn a blind eye toward drivers who bend the rules. But when hours of service regulations are ignored, truck drivers run the risk of severely injuring themselves or others.

Investigating a Drowsy Driving Truck Accident

In many truck accidents, it can be difficult to tell if the driver was tired, as there’s no direct test for fatigue like there is for alcohol or drugs in a driver’s system. However, there are ways you can show that a truck driver was fatigued to claim compensation for your injuries. Some evidence commonly used in drowsy driving truck accidents claims includes:

  • The truck driver’s logs – Truck drivers are generally required to keep detailed logs of their time on the road, breaks, and other information. If this information shows the driver wasn’t taking their required breaks, or if the logs don’t line up with data from other sources, it may indicate the truck driver was fatigued.
  • Black box data – Most commercial trucks have a data recorder similar to the “black boxes” found on airliners. Data from the black box could indicate that the driver didn’t brake or steer before the crash, which could be a sign of drowsiness.
  • Toll receipts – Timestamps at toll booths can be used to measure a truck driver’s speed along their route, which can indicate if they stopped for required rest breaks or not.
  • The truck’s data recorder – Many trucking companies now use electronic recorders in a truck’s engine to keep track of the driver and monitor for accidents. This data can be used to analyze a driver’s route and help to show whether they failed to take their required rest breaks.
  • Witness statements – Sometimes, a witness may see a truck driver nodding off in the moments preceding an accident, or they may have seen the driver behaving erratically. These accounts can be used to help show that the drive was fatigued.
  • Blood tests – Sometimes, fatigue is caused by truck drivers abusing alcohol, illegal narcotics, or certain prescription medications. A blood test may reveal the presence of one or more of these substances in the truck driver’s body, which may demonstrate how they became fatigued.

What Causes Truck Driver Fatigue in St. Louis?

There are many reasons that a truck driver may become fatigued, but some of the more common ones are:

  • Abuse of drugs or alcohol
  • Certain medical conditions, especially sleep disorders
  • Not following hours-of-service regulations
  • Pressure from employers
  • A lack of facilities to stop and rest for the night
  • Adverse weather conditions

How to Prevent Drowsy Driving Truck Accidents

The FMCSA put together a list of tips for truck drivers to prevent drowsy driving accidents. Those tips include:

  • Get enough sleep before getting behind the wheel.
  • Eat regular meals and maintain a healthy diet.
  • Take a nap when you feel tired or drowsy.
  • Avoid medications that may induce fatigue or sleepiness.
  • Be aware of and watch out for signs of drowsiness.
  • Don’t be too reliant on short-term fixes (caffeine, opening a window, turning up the music, etc.).

Who Is Liable for a Truck Crash Due to Fatigue?

There are two most likely liable parties in truck accidents related to fatigue. Those parties are:

  • The truck driver – It’s the truck driver’s responsibility to make sure they get enough rest before driving. If the driver ignores hours-of-service regulations or engages in other behavior that increases the chance of fatigue occurring (drinking before driving, abusing drugs, taking certain medications, etc.), that makes them negligent and therefore liable for your injuries.
  • The truck driver’s employer – In addition to hiring safe and qualified drivers, trucking companies are supposed to monitor their drivers to make sure they’re following safety regulations. If the trucking company knew the truck driver was ignoring hours-of-service regulations or engaging in other dangerous behavior, the trucking company could be liable for your injuries. The same is true if they knowingly hired a driver with a history of unsafe driving behavior or without the proper qualifications. If the truck driver were an employee – not an independent contractor – the employer would usually be held liable for the driver’s negligence even if the employer didn’t do anything wrong.

When to Contact a Lawyer After a Fatigued Driver Truck Accident

If you’re hurt in a truck accident, it’s best to contact an attorney as soon as you can. While you’re recovering from your injuries, your lawyer can start gathering the evidence you’ll need to maximize your claim for compensation. Acting quickly is essential, as crucial evidence such as a truck driver’s logs or the data from the truck’s data recorder can disappear without quick legal action.

Your attorney can handle negotiations with the various insurance companies to make sure you don’t accidentally do anything that might hurt your claim. By identifying and documenting all your injuries, your lawyer can give you the best chance of recovering the full amount you are eligible to receive.

Sometimes a truck driver or their insurer will refuse to make a reasonable settlement offer, in which case a lawsuit will be necessary for you to recover fair compensation. Any lawsuit is a risk, but you can minimize that risk with help from a skilled and experienced trial attorney.

Contact Our St. Louis Fatigued Truck Driver Accident Lawyers Today

If you have any further questions about truck accident claims in St. Louis, the attorneys at the Sumner Law Group, LLC would be happy to answer them for you. You can get a free, no-obligation case evaluation by calling our office or visiting our contact page.