The trucking industry provides the backbone of America’s shipping infrastructure. Commercial trucks haul nearly 70% of the country’s shipped goods each year. However, the vehicles that provide this service can be especially dangerous to other vehicles on the road. Many Houston-area drivers even fear passing a fast-moving tractor-trailer on I-10, I-69, or The Loop.
There’s good reason to fear vehicles of this size. If they hit your car, the results can be catastrophic! You could suffer serious, life-threatening injuries, or worse.
It’s not just the potential injuries you have to fear, either. More often than you might imagine, a truck accident happens because the truck driver suffered from dangerous fatigue. Truckers routinely take to the wheel without getting enough sleep, or quality sleep. The results are predictable but tragic.
If you suffered injuries in a truck accident—any truck accident at all—it’s a good bet truck driver fatigue played at least a partial role in what happened, if not the central role. This may entitle you to significant financial compensation.
The Many Dangers of Truck Driver Fatigue
Let’s face it: unless you’re a NASCAR driver, most of the time you spend behind the wheel feels like a chore. It’s repetitive, boring, and tires you out.
For some Americans, the grind of driving isn’t just an inconvenience, it’s their livelihood. Truck drivers don’t just drive to and from their jobs—driving is their job. They sit behind the wheel for up to 11 hours per day if they’re following the law (see below), and even more if they’re not. They cover hundreds of miles of blacktop every day, much of it spent on long stretches of interstate and state highway. That trucker you see on the road during your evening commute home in Houston might have been driving since sunrise.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), truck driver fatigue is a major cause for concern for anyone on the road. The NTSB estimates fatigue contributes to the cause of over 30% of all truck accidents. We’d bet that number is even higher, considering the pressures of driving a big rig and the overall state of health of the U.S. truck driver population (more on that below).
Any fatigued truck driving accident, however, is tragic, because it’s 100% preventable. The solution to fatigued truck driving is … don’t drive while you’re tired! If you’re going to drive, get adequate, quality sleep first.
Unfortunately, truck drivers take to the wheel while they’re dangerously fatigued, which means it’s up to Houston drivers to stay alert for the telltale signs that they’re sharing the road with a drowsy trucker.
A truck with a fatigued driver at the wheel:
- Changes lanes unpredictably
- Drifts off the road onto the shoulder
- Speeds or changes speed erratically
- Brakes or engages in other sudden evasive maneuvers without warning
- Does not respond appropriately to traffic signals
What accounts for these dangerous maneuvers?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fatigue:
- Reduces a driver’s ability to react to dangers on the road
- Reduces a driver’s ability to keep a vehicle in its lane
- Slows down a driver’s reaction time
- Impairs a driver’s ability to make good decisions
- Interferes with a driver’s visual acuity, perception of distance, and situational awareness
In fact, according to the CDC, a driver who has been awake for at least 18 hours is impaired to the same degree as someone with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.05. That’s 25% over the legal limit for truck drivers! Worse, a driver who’s been up for at least 24 hours suffers the same impairing effects as someone with a BAC of 0.10. That’s more than twice the legal limit!
A truck driver who makes the conscious choice to drive drowsy puts all Houston motorists in harm’s way. If a drowsy truck driver has injured you or a loved one, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries. To find out your legal options, speak with a knowledgeable Houston truck driver fatigue lawyer today.
Tired Truck Drivers Break the Law
A trucker’s decision to take the wheel on inadequate (or no) sleep doesn’t just put all of us in danger; it also breaks the law.
Commercial truck drivers must follow regulations designed to keep them awake and alert behind the wheel. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) sets those rules for interstate truckers. The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles (TxDMV) sets them for truckers who only operate within the borders of the Lone Star State.
One of the most important rules truckers must follow governs their hours of service. The FMCSA restricts truck drivers to limited hours behind the wheel. The rules say that a driver:
- Must take a minimum 30-minute rest after 8 hours on duty
- Must only drive a maximum of 11 hours in 24 hours
- Must only be on the clock for a maximum of 14 hours in 24 hours
Texas hours-of-service rules for intrastate trucking are a little less strict, permitting a driver to be on duty 12 hours after 8 off-duty hours, for example.
Hours of service rules aim to prevent extreme driver fatigue. Because truck driver workweeks can exceed 60 hours, under these rules, truckers must rest for about 34 hours off duty.
Unfortunately, many drivers and companies do not follow the law. The rules also often fail to achieve their purpose of making sure that truckers stay awake and alert on the road. These failures lead directly to tragic truck accidents.
Causes of Driver Fatigue
Truck drivers, as a group, face an epidemic of fatigue. Here are some of the most common contributing factors.
The Nature of the Job
It will probably surprise no one to hear that truck driving is exhausting work. Truckers work long hours, even when they comply with hours of service regulations. Eight hours behind the wheel is a lot for anyone! Additionally, driving a big rig requires tremendous concentration for those hours-long stretches. Truckers contend with heavy traffic, hazardous road and weather conditions, and an array of other stressors that can tire them out. Many truckers work alone, and the isolation in the cab can add to the struggle to stay awake and alert.
Relatively Poor Health
Sitting behind the wheel for up to 11 hours per day isn’t particularly healthy. According to the CDC, many truck drivers suffer from obesity and other health conditions that can interfere with their quality of sleep and their ability to stay alert during the day.
Many truckers, for instance, struggle with obesity-related sleep apnea, an interrupted breathing pattern during sleep. It’s normal for people to have breathing pauses during their sleep from time to time. But people who suffer from sleep apnea may have hundreds of these temporary breathing pauses during a typical night.
These breathing pauses can disrupt sleep cycles and cause the person to jolt awake. When this happens, a person never gets deep sleep, which is where energy is restored to the body overnight. Sleep apnea can cause a truck driver to be drowsy and not in full control of their faculties when driving.
Drug and Alcohol Use
Being a truck driver can be a lonely job. Drivers have long shifts alone and they may only interact with service staff at diners and hotels. To cope, some truck drivers turn to alcohol and drugs. This combination, especially when used during the day, can turn deadly.
Truck drivers also use energy drinks or over-the-counter medication to help them stay awake during the day. Taking these drugs makes it more difficult to get to sleep later on and doesn’t really do much to make the driver more alert. All these drugs really do is make the driver unaware of the severity of their drowsiness.
Sleeping in the Truck
Many long-haul truckers have living quarters in their truck. To save on expenses and make it quick and easy to get some rest, the rig includes a sleeping berth.
That might seem convenient, but it can be difficult for a truck driver to get adequate sleep in the cramped quarters of a sleeper. Truckers can struggle to find relaxation when they’re always in their “office.” This interferes with a trucker’s ability to get quality sleep, which in turn leads to dangerous fatigue.
Determining if Fatigue Caused a Houston Truck Accident
It’s not always easy to figure out if a truck driver’s fatigue caused an accident that injured you or a loved one. Police officers and first responders are trained to look for the obvious causes of an accident, but not necessarily the underlying causes.
As we mentioned above, the truth is truckers battle fatigue all the time. Odds are, if you got hurt in a truck accident, the trucker wasn’t operating on full rest and their fatigue contributed to the cause of your wreck.
But how can you prove it? By hiring a skilled Houston truck accident attorney, that’s how. Lawyers for truck crash victims in Houston know where they can find evidence to prove that a trucker caused an accident while fatigued, and they know how to obtain that evidence before it goes missing. For example, many big rigs these days carry electronic driving logs that track a driver’s hours of service, making it possible to reconstruct the driver’s schedule and, in turn, the amount of sleep he might (not) have gotten.
Lawyers for truck accident victims in Houston also frequently work with accident reconstruction experts who may uncover forensic evidence the police did not notice that points to fatigue as a factor in a crash. They may also have the ability to track down dashboard and traffic cameras that captured images of a truck showing the telltale signs of having a fatigued driver at the wheel.
Compensation for an Accident Caused By a Tired Trucker
A trucker who drives while fatigued violates his basic duty of care not to put others on the road in danger. If his fatigue causes an accident, he (and often his employer) may owe damages to crash victims.
Some truck accident injury victims assume they can only get money from the drowsy truck driver (and maybe his employer) for basic medical expenses.
An experienced Houston truck accident lawyer can often take legal actions against the trucker, his employer, and anyone else at fault for the accident, seeking compensation for damages including:
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Lost income
- Lost earning potential
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of life enjoyment
- Present and future medical expenses
- Property damage
- Rehabilitation costs
How much money can the lawyer get for victims? It usually depends on factors like:
- The severity of the injuries the tired trucker caused in the crash
- How strong of a case the victims’ lawyer can build
- How much insurance the trucker and/or his employer carries
Houston truck accident lawyers can’t always guarantee compensation for the victims of a crash caused by a fatigued truck driver. However, the more experience and skill the lawyer has in proving the role of fatigue in a crash, the better the victims’ chance of getting paid what they deserve.
Contact an Experienced Houston Truck Driver Fatigue Lawyer Today
The lawyer you choose to represent you after you get hurt in a crash caused by a tired trucker can make a world of difference to your case. Make the right choice. Select a lawyer who knows the trucking industry inside-and-out, and who can show you a track record of success in fatigued truck driver cases. The last thing you need while you recover from your injuries is to worry about whether your lawyer has the chops to get the job done!
To learn more about your rights after a drowsy truck driver harms you or a loved one, contact a Houston truck accident injury lawyer today for your free consultation.
Since starting his firm in 1999, Stewart J. Guss has had the honor of representing clients from all over the world, helping them recover from even the most catastrophic injuries.
Today, thanks to a strong belief in those values of compassion, respect, and approachability, the firm has grown to employ over 120 legal professionals in numerous offices across 4 states, with nationwide reach.