There are more large commercial trucks on the road than ever these days. Truck drivers are under pressure and trying to maximize their time behind the wheel. Drivers may not do most of their driving during the day when they are the most rested. Even if they do drive during the day, they may still be tired from the rigors of the road.
Fatigued truck driving is one of the biggest accident risks. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has reported that 16 to 21 percent of police-reported fatal road crashes involve drowsy driving. A fatigued truck driver is more likely to injure other motorists in an accident because the operator lacks the focus to avoid the crash.
You may seek significant financial compensation if you or a loved one have suffered a severe injury in a fatigued driving crash. First, you must show that the truck driver caused the crash. Second, you must negotiate the actual compensation that you will receive. An experienced truck accident attorney can do both of these tasks for you.
The Dangers of Fatigued Truck Driving
The body cannot operate at peak function when a person is fatigued. A truck driver needs all their capacities and reflexes when they are behind the wheel of a truck. A fully-loaded tractor-trailer weighs up to 80,000 pounds, and other drivers stand little chance of walking away from a truck accident with no injuries. Thus, a truck driver must get enough rest.
Of course, sleep is one of the major things that prevent fatigue.
However, fatigue can also result from other factors, including:
- Extended periods sitting in one position
- A poor and unbalanced diet (it is often easiest for truck drivers to eat fast food, especially when they are on a compressed schedule)
- A lack of exercise
- Taking certain prescription medications
- An otherwise unhealthy lifestyle
Unfortunately, a lot of these factors go hand-in-hand with truck driving, so fatigue is a common problem in this industry.
Truck Drivers Must Drive in Peak Condition
Truck drivers make many decisions each time that they drive. Every lane change and time they brake requires their mental and physical acuity. When one is driving a truck, seconds matter.
It takes a fully loaded truck about one-tenth of a mile to come to a complete stop when the vehicle is traveling at 55 miles per hour. If the driver is a split second late when starting to brake, they will not stop in time.
Similarly, changing lanes is also a dangerous exercise. Truck drivers must be precise when switching lanes and properly check their blind spots and judge the distance of other vehicles. Even a slight miscalculation can cause a sideswipe accident that can seriously injure another driver.
Overly tired truck drivers will make mistakes that lead to a crash that injures others.
Fatigued Driving Statistics
The first scary statistic you need to know is that fatigued driving is almost as dangerous as drunk driving. When someone drives a vehicle after not having slept for 20 hours, it is functionally the same as if they are driving with a blood alcohol content of .08 (the legal limit for truck drivers is .04).
Here are some other relevant facts about fatigued truck driving:
- Truck drivers average five hours of sleep per night when the average American should receive eight hours.
- A Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration study found that drivers tend to be more fatigued based on the time of day and are more tired at night, even when they have slept.
- One study found that 65 percent of truck drivers are either drowsy behind the wheel or have admitted to falling asleep.
Truck drivers may force themselves to stay awake using alternative means. Some may ingest excessive amounts of caffeine. The problem is that the driver can become even more drowsy when the effects of any stimulants leave their system. There is no way around proper rest and a healthy lifestyle. When truck drivers fail to care for themselves, they put others at serious risk.
Federal Hours of Service Regulations for Truck Drivers
Truck drivers must operate against the backdrop of hours of service regulations that restrict how long they can drive their trucks and require them to take breaks at certain intervals.
Specifically, federal hours of service rules state:
- The truck driver may drive a maximum of 11 hours after ten consecutive hours off duty.
- The operator may not drive beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty, following ten consecutive hours off duty.
- Drivers must take a 30-minute break when they have driven for a period of 8 cumulative hours without at least a 30-minute interruption.
- Operators may not drive after 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days.
- Drivers must also spend a certain amount of their break in the sleeper berth of their truck.
Hours of service rules have existed for almost as long as the trucking industry itself. The government has always recognized that fatigued truck drivers endanger all other drivers. The rules have sometimes changed to reflect changing conditions or dangers. The trucking industry has often pressured the government to relax the rules because the regulations affect their profits.
Some truck drivers may violate these rules because they have fallen behind or are facing an impossible deadline. They are calculating that they may get away with it, especially if they manage to avoid an accident.
Rested Drivers May Still Suffer From Fatigue
Even if truck drivers follow the hours of service restrictions to the letter, they may drive at odd hours. They may avoid driving during the day because there is the most traffic. They can make less progress when they are allowed to drive. Truckers often drive late at night. With less traffic, they often speed.
Driving at night can be dangerous in itself, especially if the truck driver has not gotten proper rest during the day. Even though they may spend a certain amount of time in their truck’s sleeper berth, nothing says that the truck driver has either followed the rule or rested during that time.
How to Win Your Truck Accident Case
You must prove the driver was negligent to win any truck accident case. You will not necessarily need to prove that the driver was fatigued, although it will help with your case.
If the truck driver did the following, your lawyer can prove your case:
- Drifted out of their lane
- Rolled over
- Ran into the back of your car
- Lost control of their vehicle
Even if you do not have direct evidence of fatigue, demonstrating their dangerous driving can prove a claim.
Timing Is Crucial When You Are Gathering Truck Accident Evidence
You can also obtain evidence showing what the driver did and when they were driving. Every truck built after a certain point has an event data recorder (black box) that records certain vital events. In the past, the truck driver kept a written log of their service hours. Now, everything is recorded.
You should move quickly to gather evidence after a truck accident. The trucking company must only keep its records (including black box data) for a certain period. After that, they may overwrite the black box data. The trucking company may even destroy the data if they know that it can incriminate or implicate them.
Your lawyer will need to send a quick letter to the trucking company that directs them to preserve all evidence (including the black box data) in anticipation of a potential trial.
Financial Compensation in a Fatigued Accident Case
When you have suffered an injury by the negligent acts of a truck driver, you may be entitled to significant financial compensation. You can sue the trucking company that employed the truck driver. You can hold them responsible for the acts of their employees. The trucking company must pay you if the truck driver caused an accident when they are on the job.
Usually, the trucking company has a significant insurance policy to pay for accident damages. They know an angry jury can hit them with a large enough verdict to put them out of business, so they will usually invest in a significant commercial vehicle coverage policy. Thus, you will deal with the trucking company’s insurance company when trying to get financial compensation for your fatigued truck accident injuries. Two companies have their financial motivations at play in your case.
The trucking company must pay you the following damages in your fatigued accident claim:
- Medical expenses
- Lost income
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Embarrassment and humiliation
- Scarring and disfigurement
- Property damage
Wrongful Death Claims for Fatigued Truck Accident Injuries
Your family can file a wrongful death claim against the trucking company if your loved one died in a fatigued driving accident. Then, they will need to pay your family based on what the deceased person meant to you, both from an emotional and financial perspective.
Your family will need to recover the most compensation possible because it will be your only chance to get the money you deserve. Wrongful death damages are what you will need to provide you with financial support when your loved one is no longer around to earn money to support the family.
Punitive Damages in a Trucking Accident Case
Punitive damages punish liable parties for highly dangerous behavior.
For example, if a jury finds that the trucking company did the following, it might order a significant punitive damages award:
- Pressured the truck driver to make the delivery and keep driving despite the hours of service rules
- Has a poor track record of complying with the hours of service rules
- Has a long history of rule violations
- Tried to destroy or hide evidence that shows that its driver broke the rule
If the truck driver was tired, you might have more leverage in an insurance claim than you think. The trucking company may not want to face a jury when they know that its driver violated federal rules.
It will be up to your personal injury attorney in Bakersfield to negotiate a settlement that fairly compensates you for your damages. When you are dealing with a significant potential number of truck accident claims, you do not want to deal with the insurance company on your own. You will leave money on the table, often settling your claim for pennies on the dollar.
The time to call a top-rated Bakersfield personal injury law firm’s attorney is right after the trucking accident, so they can gather the evidence you need to prove your case.
You do not need to worry about coming up with the money to pay your truck accident lawyer. They do not work for free but only receive fees if and when you receive money for your truck accident injuries. They will not ask you to pay money out of your pocket. If you do not win your case, you will not have a large legal bill waiting for you to pay.