Drowsy Truck Drivers

Hours-of-Service (or HOS) in the trucking industry are regulated by the federal government in order to curb driver fatigue – known to be a primary cause of highway crashes and fatalities.

In fact, driving drowsy is just as dangerous as driving drunk. It impairs reaction time, critical thinking and even vision.

Truck accident attorneys in Fort Lauderdale at The Ansara Law Firm, know truck drivers mean no harm to others when they get behind the wheel tired. But these truckers are in charge of 80,000 pounds of machinery, and that becomes a deadly weapon in the control of someone who is sleep-deprived and too tired to react appropriately to dangerous conditions.

What is Driver Fatigue?

Fatigue is a form of extreme tiredness or exhaustion. In truckers, it can result from:

  • Not getting the necessary amount of sleep
  • Loading and unloading heavy cargo
  • Putting in overtime hours
  • Sleep apnea or other medical conditions
  • Alcohol or drug use

Unfortunately, the problem is somewhat cyclical. The more fatigued a person is, the less able they are to gauge their own level of fatigue.

Of course, it’s not just truck drivers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently called insufficient sleep a “public health epidemic.” An estimated 70 million adults in the U.S. have some type of sleep or wakefulness disorder. Insufficiency of sleep is tied to:

  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Industrial accidents
  • Medical and other occupational errors

While it’s a potential hazard to everyone, lack of sleep is a huge problem within the trucking industry because of the size of the vehicles involved, and the fact that the public is exposed to the danger.

Hours of Service Regulations

One federal survey recently discovered:

  • Sixty-five percent of truck drivers admit to feeling drowsy while driving in the last year.
  • Nearly 50 percent admitted to actually having fallen asleep behind the wheel over the last 12 months.

Another problem right now is much of the trucking industry pays by the mile, rather than by the hour. As a result, truckers are motivated to drive beyond their personal limits to increase their paychecks.

And for the companies that own tractors or contract with the drivers, the faster the haul, the more deliveries they can make and the more money they earn. But when these entities fail to adhere to federal safety standards for hours of service, they not only violate federal law, they put everyone on the road in jeopardy.

That’s part of the reason the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration moved to tighten its regulations and restrictions for trucker schedules.

New updated guidelines :

  • Reduced truckers’ maximum workweek down to 70 hours from 82
  • Mandated truckers work no more than 11 hours in a day
  • Required truckers to have at least one, 30-minute break in their shift

Initially, the FMCSA required drivers who hit a 70-hour limit to receive a “restart” of 34 straight hours of rest time, which had to include at least two nights of rest between the hours of 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. However, the agency bowed to pressure from the trucking industry, which vigorously fought these requirements. That requirement has been suspended.

This is despite the fact that most truck crashes – or near-misses – occur between the hours of midnight and 2 a.m. and also from 4 a.m. to 6 a.m., according to the CDC.

Building a Case After a Truck Accident

Drowsy driving is often more difficult to measure than drunk driving or even distracted driving. In the latter two scenarios, there are blood tests and field sobriety tests and phone records and other concrete evidence to back an allegation of wrongdoing.

With fatigued driving, it’s less black-and-white. There are hours-of-service logs, but these can be and frequently are manipulated by the driver or the company. There are sometimes statements made by the driver that may suggest fatigue, but truckers usually know better than to concede fatigue. Unfortunately, there is no hard-and-fast test to prove “too tired to drive.”

In an effort to curb dishonest hours of service logs, the FMCSA, as part of the Moving Head for Progress in the 21st Century Law (MAP-21), is working to initiate a rule that would require all commercial vehicles to install electronic logging devices. Some companies already have them, and such equipment can be a beneficial tool for plaintiffs in truck accident cases.

Beyond that, our experienced legal team will carefully analyze not only the log books, but statements made by witnesses, evidence gathered in accident reconstruction and medical records of the truck driver, which may indicate sleeping disorders or other trouble.

All of these can provide clues that will help us piece together a strategy to obtain just compensation for our clients.

Contact the South Florida truck injury lawyers at The Ansara Law Firm, by calling (954) 761-4011 or toll-free at (888) ANSARA-8.