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Fatigue-Related Accidents: How Truck Driver Fatigue Causes Wrecks

Written by Tom Crosley
Sep 22, 2021 Personal Injury, Trucking Accidents, Vehicle Wrecks
  1. 1. Why Is Truck Driver Fatigue So Dangerous?
  2. 2. Who Most Often Falls Asleep While Driving? Commercial Truck Drivers
  3. 3. Commercial Drivers, Truck Driving Fatigue, Falling Asleep at the Wheel, and the Law
  4. 4. Why Are Commercial Truck Drivers Prone to Fatigue?
  5. 5. What to Do if You’re Injured by a Fatigued Truck Driver
  6. 6. Crosley Law: San Antonio’s Trusted Truck Accident Lawyers

How Truck Driver Fatigue Causes Wrecks

When the topic of impaired driving is discussed, most people think of drunk driving. But the truth is, truck driver fatigue (which can become even more dangerous if it leads to sleeping at the wheel) is one of the most common forms of driver impairment. In fact, it’s comparable to drunk driving.

While anyone can drive while drowsy, commercial vehicle drivers are more vulnerable than most. Many of them work long days and nights, and often feel pressure to continue on even when they’re physically and mentally exhausted. Unfortunately, their drowsy driving can have tragic consequences. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), one in eight commercial drivers were fatigued at the time of their truck wreck.

In this article, the truck accident lawyers at Crosley Law explore the dangers of drowsy driving—and what you should do if a fatigued truck driver causes a crash.

Why Is Truck Driver Fatigue So Dangerous?

Scientists and doctors have studied how sleep deprivation affects humans for years. We know that fatigue can cause severe mental and physical problems:

  • Decreased awareness
  • Drowsiness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Impaired coordination
  • Loss of memory
  • Impaired decision making
  • Slowed reaction time
  • Difficulty processing information

The CDC says that an estimated 1 in 25 adult drivers of 18 years or older report having fallen asleep at the wheel in the last month. Another study, performed by NHSTA found drowsy driving responsible for 72,000 crashes and potentially up to 6,000 fatal crashes.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that drowsy driving is comparable to drunk driving. The chances of crashing while driving on only four hours of sleep in a 24-hour period to be the same as driving with a 0.08 blood alcohol content (the legal limit in Texas and all other states). A 24-hour period of sleep deprivation is equivalent to a BAC of 0.10.

The chances of crashing while driving on only four hours of sleep in a 24-hour period to be the same as driving with a 0.08 blood alcohol content (the legal limit in Texas and all other states).

Who Most Often Falls Asleep While Driving? Commercial Truck Drivers

With the harsh consequences of sleep deprivation in mind, it’s not surprising that drivers who sleep less than four of the last 24 hours are more than eight times more likely to cause an accident than someone who sleeps six or seven hours. Drivers who cause accidents more frequently report:

  • Sleeping under four hours in 24 hours
  • Sleeping less than usual in 24 hours
  • Changing their sleep schedule within the last week

Some drivers are more likely than others to fall into these categories. For instance, a 2013 study of 19 states found that Texans tend to be very susceptible to nodding off on the road — estimating that 5,357 Texans fall asleep while driving a month.

According to NHTSA (National Highway Transportation Safety Administration), commercial drivers, including delivery drivers, truckers, and ride share operators, are more likely to drive while fatigued. Their risk increases even more if they work late at night, have an underlying sleep disorder (like sleep apnea), other pre-existing health conditions.

To combat this risk, both the federal government and states (including Texas) have created strict rules about drowsy driving.

Commercial Drivers, Truck Driving Fatigue, Falling Asleep at the Wheel, and the Law

To protect drivers and others on the road, there are legal limits to the amount of time a commercial driver can go without a break or time off (referred to as hours-of-service regulations). These include:

  • 14-hour shift limit for day drivers, only 11 hours of which can be spent driving.
  • A mandatory 30-minute break every eight hours.
  • A limit of 60 hours on duty in seven days (or 70 hours in eight days) for freight drivers. A total 34 hours must be taken off before a new set of days can begin.

Under the average commercial driver follows regulations, they’re likely to drive around 810 miles on a good day.

However, these rules aren’t always firmly enforced. Some trucking companies pressure drivers to drive longer than HOS regulations allow to make deliveries on time. In 2018, The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance said that HOS violations were the most common violation its inspectors discovered — this includes records falsified by truckers or the trucking company.

Then, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the government relaxed some restrictions so that drivers could work longer hours with less time off.

This sleep-deprivation culture can create enormous roadway hazards for not just commercial drivers, but other motorists as well. In 98% of fatal semi-truck accidents involving a passenger vehicle, the party killed was in the passenger vehicle.

Why Are Commercial Truck Drivers Prone to Fatigue?

While those who have never driven freight might assume it’s an easy job, it’s not. Trucking is physically intensive, and involves long periods of driving with little sleep. Sleep deprivation is common among drivers.

When accidents happen, fatigue is often one of the primary factors — estimated to cause about 30 or 40% of truck crashes. According to the FMCSA’s Large Truck Crash Causation Study, fatigue was a contributing factor in one in eight fatal truck accidents.

These drivers also have to resist significant pressure from their employers. Profit margins are often thin in the trucking industry—and there is often a push for truckers to drive longer and faster than they should. Sometimes, they will work when they’re ill to meet their bosses’ expectations. Others resort to drug use to keep themselves awake on the road.

What to Do if You’re Injured by a Fatigued Truck Driver

Preserve Evidence of Truck Driver Fatigue

Drowsy drivers will rarely admit that they were nodding off at the wheel, especially after a serious motor vehicle accident. If you suspect that a commercial driver was driving while fatigued, you should act quickly to preserve important evidence.

As quickly as possible, your truck accident lawyer should preserve the following information:

  • The driver’s hours of service logbooks or electronic logging device (ELD) data
  • GPS and dashcam data that documents the moments before and after the wreck
  • Surveillance camera footage from nearby businesses
  • Credit card and cell phone records that might provide evidence about the number of rest periods the trucker took that day
  • Eyewitness statements

With the help of forensic experts, engineers, and other specialists, we can sometimes reconstruct the crash and identify all the factors that caused your injuries—which might include driver fatigue, distracted driving, or even drunk driving.

The longer you wait, however, the less likely this information will be available. For example, trucking companies only have to store commercial driver’s hours-of-service logs or ELD records for six months. After that time, they can legally destroy these records, weakening your personal injury claim.

RELATED: Sophisticated Tactics Uncover a Trucker’s Negligence: J.T.’s Story

Look Beyond the Fatigued Driver When It Comes to Fault

When most people assign blame after a truck wreck (or another car accident), they typically focus on the driver. There are times, however, that other parties may be found responsible — most notably the trucking company. If the truck driver was an employee, they are vicariously liable for the trucker’s negligence.

Additionally, trucking companies cannot force their drivers to break hours-of-service and other federal regulations and safety rules. If there is evidence that the driver was being pressured to drive longer or faster than they should, you might have a “driver coercion” claim against their employer.

In fact, if your personal injury lawyer can show that a driver violated the federal hours-of-service rules, you might be able to streamline your personal injury claim. In Texas, the courts will apply a rule called “negligence per se,” where they will assume that the company’s rules violations caused your injuries.

RELATED: Understanding Negligence in Your Personal Injury Claim

Don’t Accept the Insurance Company’s First Settlement Offer

Insurance companies are for-profit companies that want to settle your personal injury claim as quickly and cheaply as possible. You can rest assured that their first settlement offer doesn’t fully compensate you for your injuries.

For example, Crosley Law represented J.T., who was injured by a distracted truck driver. He suffered multiple herniated discs in his neck and needed ongoing chronic pain treatment. However, even though the police report clearly blamed the truck driver for the wreck, the insurance company only offered J.T. $65,000 to settle his claim.

Our truck accident lawyers built a strong case, collecting cell phone records, 911 transcripts, falsified logbooks, and other evidence. Then, we forced the driver to make damaging admissions during his deposition (a recorded statement made under oath). With a lot of hard work, we were able to negotiate a $337,500 settlement for J.T.

Before you agree to a settlement, consult with one of our lawyers. We offer free consultations—and will never charge you a fee unless we settle your case or recover a jury award.

Crosley Law: San Antonio’s Trusted Truck Accident Lawyers

Were you or a loved one injured by a drowsy driver? Our truck accident and car accident lawyers have earned a track record of success that includes multi-million-dollar settlements for our clients. We know how to build effective cases against reckless truck drivers and trucking companies, and can help you understand all your legal options.

To schedule a free consultation, call us at 210-LAW-3000 | 210-529-3000 or send us a message today.


Drowsy driving: Asleep at the wheel. (2020, May 28). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/features/drowsy-driving.html

Dawson D, Reid K. Fatigue, alcohol and performance impairment. Nature. 1997 Jul 17;388(6639):235. doi: 10.1038/40775. PMID: 9230429.

Drowsy driving—19 states and the District of Columbia, 2009-2010. (2013, January 4). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6151a1.htm

Tefft, B.C. (2014). Prevalence of Motor Vehicle Crashes Involving Drowsy Drivers, United States, 2009-2013 (Technical Report). Washington, D.C.: AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

The large truck crash causation study – Analysis brief. (2007, July). Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Retrieved from https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/safety/research-and-analysis/large-truck-crash-causation-study-analysis-brief

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.

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