How Does Fatigue Affect Truck Drivers?

Published on Mar 30, 2022 at 1:23 pm in Truck Accidents.

truck cab

Driving is a task that requires all your focus, attention, and effort. You might feel this more acutely than ever when you are sharing the road with big trucks like tractor-trailers. Your vigilance behind the wheel may not be enough to prevent a collision, though.

Big truck drivers are notoriously overworked, with companies pushing them to spend long hours on the road as they transport consumer goods across Mississippi. Fatigue is a serious, ongoing problem in the trucking industry, and it’s putting you and everyone else on the road at risk for a trucking accident.

Federal Hours-of-Service Regulations

Federal hours-of-service (HOS) regulations limit the amount of time that truck drivers can spend on duty. Duty hours are not limited to driving time, as on-duty tasks also involve pre-trip inspections, loading and unloading cargo, verifying the accuracy of loads, and completing paperwork.

HOS regulations also specify how often truck drivers must take breaks, and for how long. These regulations are intended to help truck drivers remain awake and alert for the entirety of their working hours. Here are some of the HOS regulations to which most property-carrying drivers must adhere:

  • Following ten consecutive hours off duty, truck drivers can drive a maximum of 11 hours.
  • Following ten consecutive hours off duty, truck drivers may not drive after being on duty for 14 consecutive hours. As stated above, duty hours involve more than driving.
  • Following eight cumulative hours of driving, truck drivers must take a 30-minute driving break. This driving break may be either spent off duty, or on non-driving on-duty tasks.
  • Truck drivers are not permitted to drive after completing 60 on-duty hours in a 7-day period, or 70 on-duty hours in an 8-day period. Truck drivers may take 34 consecutive hours off to restart the consecutive day period.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) can cite trucking companies found to be in violation of HOS regulations and require them to pay civil fines ranging between $1,000 and $11,000 for every violation. In certain situations, trucking carriers and drivers may even face federal criminal penalties for knowingly encouraging or violating these regulations. The FMCSA may also downgrade a carrier’s safety rating if it continually violates regulations.

Penalties for HOS violations are steep because of the potential harm they can cause. At Pittman Roberts & Welsh, PLLC, our trucking accident attorneys have seen firsthand the kind of damage that a fatigued driver can cause.

How Fatigue Affects Your Body

Fatigue is often confused with simply feeling tired. Fatigue is much different, though, and is instead defined as being physically weary or extremely overtired. For some people, fatigue may be a rare experience, while for others it is a chronic problem. Indications that you might be suffering from fatigue include symptoms like:

  • Tired eyes
  • Whole-body exhaustion
  • Frequent yawning
  • A sluggish feeling in your legs
  • Stiff shoulders
  • Sleepiness
  • Impatience
  • A general feeling of uneasiness, discomfort, or illness

These symptoms can make it difficult to focus or concentrate on a given task. People suffering from fatigue may also have low motivation, poor decision-making skills, and feel irritable. Factors that contribute to fatigue include:

  • Poor lifestyle habits – Excessive alcohol use, unhealthy dietary habits, lots of stress, and being sedentary can all cause fatigue.
  • Sleep disorders – Sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and insomnia are all associated with chronic fatigue. If left untreated, fatigue may be extreme.
  • Medical conditions – Certain medical conditions, including mental health illnesses such as depression, manifest in body-wide fatigue.
  • Medications – Both over-the-counter and prescription medications are linked to fatigue, including blood pressure drugs and antihistamines.

The Dangers of Driver Fatigue

Fatigue is also sometimes the result of simply being awake for too many consecutive hours, routinely getting too little sleep across multiple days, or performing monotonous tasks for extended periods of time. Unfortunately, these types of behaviors are all too common in the trucking industry.

A fatigued truck driver might experience microsleep without ever realizing it. Microsleep is when someone falls asleep for very brief periods of time, sometimes for as long as 30 seconds or as little as less than a single second. Tunnel vision is also a problem among fatigued truck drivers, which involves losing any sense of what may be occurring in the periphery.

Truck drivers who are too fatigued to be behind the wheel may also:

  • Fall asleep for longer periods of time
  • Make poor decisions
  • Drift in and out of their lanes
  • Forget the most recent distance they drove

Perhaps the worst thing a fatigued truck driver can do is cause an accident. Trucking accidents are often serious, and passenger vehicle occupants are usually the ones who suffer the most severe injuries. They may involve direct impacts with other vehicles, or jackknife incidents that lead to secondary collisions.

An empty tractor-trailer weighs around 35,000 pounds, whereas the typical midsize car weighs only 3,361 pounds. A fully loaded 18-wheeler may weigh up to 80,000 pounds. This drastic weight difference means that passenger vehicles do not stand much of a chance in a collision with a large truck.

Fatigued truck drivers are not a rare occurrence, either. Around 328,000 annual crashes can be attributed directly to fatigued or drowsy drivers.

HOS violations certainly play a role in truck driver fatigue, but it is not the only problem. The very nature of working as a trucker puts drivers at higher risk for fatigue. The long hours spent on duty and performing a monotonous task (driving) are both significant risk factors for fatigue.

Finding the Right Help After a Truck Accident

At Pittman Roberts & Welsh, PLLC, we know that life will never be the same after a serious truck accident. We also know that it can be an uphill battle to secure the compensation you need for your recovery.

Our Jackson truck accident lawyers know that the trucking company and its insurance provider will do everything in their power to pay as little as possible, or to avoid paying compensation altogether. That’s why we help collect and document important evidence that proves liability, including HOS violations, poor maintenance, and other negligent behaviors.

Without the right advocate on your side, the insurance company will try to get you to settle for less than what your claim is worth. Don’t let yourself be shortchanged—contact us today for your free consultation with one of our knowledgeable truck accident attorneys.

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