Fatigued driving is a serious problem throughout the United States. People are driving more than ever in this country. But people are also doing less sleeping than ever. According to a Gallup review of data, in 1942 the average person slept 7.9 hours per night. In 2013, that number dropped to 6.8., with 65 percent of adults sleeping 7 or less hours per night. The Albuquerque Craniofacial Center reports that people who sleep 6-7 hours a night are twice as likely to be in an accident when compared to someone who sleeps 8 hours or more. Worse yet, if a person sleeps less than 5 hours, the risk of a collision increases 400 - 500 percent. All these circumstances and statistics combine to make for dangerous driving conditions. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 7 percent of all crashes and 16.5 percent of all crashes with fatalities are caused by drowsy drivers.
Truck drivers have awful reputations for driving drowsy. The very nature of a truck driver's work, including the hundreds and thousands of miles driving under employer pressures to meet strict deadlines, supports the notion that truck drivers may be sleepy while they drive. It is therefore unsurprising that they cause thousands of fatal collisions per year. If you've been involved in a collision caused by a truck driver you suspect was driving while fatigued or who fell asleep at the wheel, you need to contact a personal injury attorney as soon as possible.
Truck Driver Fatigue
In a study published in the peer-reviewed journal Accident Analysis & Prevention, 47.1 percent of long-distance truck drivers reported they had fallen asleep at the wheel of their truck and 25.4 percent claimed they had fallen asleep on the road within the previous year. The study found 6 underlying, independent factors:
- Greater daytime sleepiness;
- More arduous schedules with more hours of work and fewer hours off-duty;
- Older, more experienced drivers;
- Shorter, poorer sleep on road;
- Symptoms of sleep disorder; and
- Greater tendency to night-time drowsy driving.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) found in its 2007 study that truck driver fatigue was reported as a factor in as many as 13 percent of collisions. The FMCSA recognized the need to counter this problem through laws and regulations that directly respond to the above-listed factors. According to 49 CFR Part 395, Hours of Service of Drivers, some important regulations are as follows:
- A truck driver must have 10 consecutive hours off duty before starting a new shift;
- A shift may endure for a period of 14 consecutive hours only, and the driver may drive only 11 hours within that 14-hour period;
- A truck driver must rest for at least 30 minutes after each 8-hour interval of driving non-stop;
- The maximum average work week is limited to 70 hours; and
- A work week only resumes after 34 consecutive hours of rest, which includes two nights rest between 1 am and 5 am.
According to the law, driving hours and sleeping or resting hours must be tracked in the truck driver's logbook. The truck also has its own electronic logbook, which keeps track of when and where the truck departed.
New Mexico has a particular interest in deterring fatigue driving among truck drivers since there is a high rate of truck drivers traveling within and through the state. New Mexico has implemented a strategic plan to reduce the number of accidents and fatalities caused by fatigued truck drivers. This plan includes installing rumble strips where it's feasible and providing more rest areas, especially along popular truck routes.
Truck Accidents & Accountability
While regulations and plans are intended to reduce the incidence of truck driver fatigue, the problem still persists. There are deadlines that need to be met, money to be made, and business to be conducted. Truck drivers and trucking companies sometimes disregard the law so that they can meet these obligations and benefit their bottom line.
If an accident occurs due to a violation of the law and/or negligent conduct, then the truck driver and any other relevant party must be held accountable. A truck driver is always liable if he caused an accident, particularly when driving while drowsy or falling asleep at the wheel. The trucking company may also be held liable for the negligence of the driver if it failed to monitor the driver in accordance with the law. The responsibilities of the trucking company include:
- Requiring drivers to keep accurate logbooks of their hours for each 24-hour period;
- Testing drivers for use of controlled substances (many trucks will use legal and illegal stimulants to stay awake, but the over-use of these stimulants can have the effects opposite of what is intended);
- Ensuring drivers have the proper licensing; and/or
- Monitoring signs of a driver's fatigue or impairment.
In cases of driver fatigue, it may be difficult to hold a trucking company accountable. With the threat of pending claims and/or lawsuits, some trucking companies may intentionally destroy or alter evidence. If this occurs, a separate spoliation of evidence claim may be filed against the trucking company. An experienced attorney will know when and how to file this claim.
Injuries & Damages Compensation
Accidents caused by trucks are often some of the worst accidents simply because the size of the truck is so much greater than a passenger vehicle. Truck accidents caused by fatigued drivers, however, may be even more concerning. A drowsy driver frequently makes no effort to stop or prevent the accident because the drowsy driver doesn't realize what's happening until it's too late. Personal injuries can be catastrophic, and the odds of a fatality are twice as high. If you have suffered injuries or a family member died in a crash caused by a fatigued truck driver, you have the right to seek damages:
- Economic Damages. These damages are for damages already with a value attached to them, such as property damage repairs, medical bills, past and future lost wages.
- Non-economic Damages. These damages are for damages without a value attached to them, such as pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment, loss of consortium. There are various calculations that can be used to determine an appropriate amount.
- Punitive Damages. These damages are intended to punish the wrong-doer(s) and to deter others from similar behavior. These damages are awarded in cases where the wrongdoing was malicious, willful, reckless, or wanton.
There are no caps placed on the amount of damages an injured party can receive.
Personal, Comprehensive Legal Representation
Fatigued truck drivers have the potential to cause serious collisions that can alter the quality of your life. You need someone who can provide personal, comprehensive legal counsel and who has the experience and preparedness to go all the way to trial if that's what it takes to get you what you deserve in terms of compensation. For an initial consultation, with an experienced, resourceful personal injury attorney, contact Revo Smith Law today at (505) 293-8888.