Steven A. Bagen | July 19, 2022 | Truck Accidents
Truck drivers are under more pressure than ever to get their cargo to the destination on time. During a global supply chain crisis, customers are putting massive pressure on trucking companies to deliver to keep their shelves stocked and their warehouses full.
When the customer pressures the trucking company, many demands fall on the operator to follow the delivery schedule. Faced with time constraints and with their job on the line, the truck driver may cut corners and take chances to get where they are going as fast as possible.
Some truck drivers speed to make up time on their journey, especially if they left late. Others may ignore maintenance issues that can keep their truck off the road. Many truck drivers break the rules to make faster deliveries by driving far longer than they should. This could result in accidents and leave you severely injured. Having a truck accident lawyer could be beneficial for you and your claim.
Fatigued Driving Plays a Part in Many Accidents
One study found that fatigue killed 1.5 percent of people who died in truck accidents. However, others have argued that these numbers are way too low. Police cannot always detect that the truck driver was fatigued when investigating the crash, and the driver will not admit it because they will lose their job. Often, you only find out that the driver was fatigued after you can get evidence in the months after the accident.
Another study found that 13 percent of accidents involving large trucks had driver fatigue as a factor. These numbers are consistent with statistics published in countries like England and Italy.
Federal Regulations Require Truck Drivers to Rest at Certain Intervals
Federal rules limit the hours that truckers may be behind the wheel. They are obligated to take mandatory rest breaks because there are far too many consequences of fatigued driving. The federal government has long recognized the dangers truck drivers can pose to the public when they remain on the road for too long.
Federal hours of service limitations for truckers go almost as far back as trucks themselves. Regulators finalized the first rules in 1937. However, the rules did not go far enough to address truck driver fatigue, so the Department of Transportation significantly overhauled the regulations in 2003. Regulators did not necessarily match the original rules to the human’s circadian rhythm, so the government made substantial changes.
After about a decade of legal challenges from the trucking industry, the Department of Transportation finalized the new rules in 2013. There was an intense back-and-forth in court between the industry and safety advocates, with the government caught in the middle.
The Current Rest Rules that Truck Drivers Must Follow
The current truck driver hours of service rules are:
- Truck drivers may only drive 11 hours after ten off-hours
- Operators may not drive their 11 hours over a span that totals more than 14 hours.
- Drivers must take a 30-minute break if they drove eight consecutive hours.
- The operator may not drive after 60/70 hours on duty in seven/eight consecutive days (but they can restart the new seven or eight-day period after resting for at least 34 hours)
- Drivers can split their ten-hour rest into several periods, so long as one period is at least two hours long, and they spend at least seven hours in the truck’s sleeper berth.
- Drivers can extend the restriction to 13 hours in adverse driving conditions.
Why Truck Drivers Can Get Fatigued
Truck driver fatigue not only results from the lack of proper rest.
Any number of things can cause fatigue, including:
- Medications that a truck driver may be taking
- The lack of a good diet
- Inadequate physical conditioning
- Poor sleeping habits
- Taking stimulants to stay awake and then crashing.
The situation becomes far worse because many operators drive straight through the night because they do not want to lose time or waste gasoline when stuck in traffic. Any health conditions or factors that make them tired become far worse when they drive in the middle of the night.
Not only must drivers rest, but they must also properly prepare themselves to transition between sleeping and driving. Contrary to what you may think, most incidents happen in the truck driver’s first hour of driving, as opposed to when they are after a long shift.
The Hazardous Effects of Fatigued Driving
Driving a truck requires all the driver’s reflexes and skills, even under the best circumstances. These are massive vehicles; all it takes is one small mistake to cause a severe crash that injures other drivers. Trucks take far longer than passenger vehicles to stop when traveling 55 miles per hour, and a tired driver may miss the first opportunity to slow down the truck.
Due to fatigued driving, truckers:
- May make a steering error that can cause a vehicle to rollover
- Cannot focus well enough to see into their blindspots
- Cannot brake in time when they need to slow down
- Will make poor decisions behind the wheel because of clouded judgment
- Will misjudge the distance between themselves and cars in their vicinity
Studies have shown that 20 or more hours without sleep is functionally the same as driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 (the legal limit for truck drivers is 0.04). Unlike passenger car drivers, some rules regulate truck drivers’ hours. However, the rules can force them to rest, but the regulation does not mandate actual sleep and a healthier lifestyle.
Fatigued Truck Driving Is a Serious Issue for the Public that Is in Danger
The issue of truck driver fatigue continues to be at the forefront of public consciousness. A 2014 truck accident where a fatigued Walmart truck driver seriously injured comedian Tracey Morgan when he ran into the star’s limo focused even further attention on the issue. An investigation found that the truck driver was awake for 28 hours before the crash, nearly killing the entertainer and leaving him with serious injuries.
Morgan’s lawsuit argued that Walmart knew or should have known that their driver was awake for more than 24 hours straight before the accident.
Walmart settled Morgan’s lawsuit. Although the settlement terms were not released, some speculated that Morgan received as much as $90 million (although his attorney denied that amount). The family of the limo driver, whom the accident killed, reportedly received around $10 million in a wrongful death settlement.
Trucks Must Have Electronic Logging Devices Now
Even though mandatory rest breaks have been the rule for decades, truck drivers have not always followed the rules. If they hit traffic or lose time on the road, the driver may look for other ways to make up time, and skipping rest periods is one way they do it.
The Department of Transportation changed its rule again recently to require electronic logging of the hours of service. Previously, drivers only had to maintain a paper log of the hours they drove. This system led to abuses where drivers falsified logs to protect themselves when they had broken the rules. Now, the truck itself automatically monitors the hours that the operator drives.
Black Box Data Could Prove that a Truck Driver Broke Rest Rules
However, anything short of an ignition lock that prevents the truck from operating when the driver breaks the rules will not fully protect motorists from fatigued truckers.
Operators may still break the rules despite the electronic logging at the behest of their employer, which is pressuring them. Even with the ELD systems, fatigued trucker accidents continue. A temporary suspension of hours of service rules at the beginning of the pandemic increased the number of crashes as stores struggled to keep shelves stocked.
Even still, the trucking company maintains control of the ELD data. They must make it available to the federal government for inspection. If there is a serious truck crash, the government crash investigators may ask for the ELD data. Nonetheless, there is always a chance of this data disappearing, especially if the truck driver broke the rules.
Trucking companies sometimes have a way of mishandling damning evidence, despite the severe consequences.
Truck Accident Attorneys Must Move Quickly to Obtain Evidence
If you have suffered an injury in a fatigued truck driver accident, you will need the evidence that shows that the truck driver was breaking federal rules. If you can get your hands on this data, it increases the chances that you can receive financial compensation for your injuries.
In general, truck accident cases are very evidence intensive. You will need quite a bit of information in the trucking company’s possession. They will not willingly hand it over to you. However, you can get it through the legal process when you file a lawsuit. The trucking company will have to give you relevant evidence in discovery—but you need to know to ask for it, and how.
You will need to get started early if you want to ensure that the trucking company preserves the evidence that can show that the driver was violating the federal regulations.
When you hire a truck accident attorney, your lawyer will immediately send the trucking company a letter that directs them to preserve all relevant evidence in your case. If the evidence “disappears,” a court can seriously sanction the trucking company in a lawsuit. They do not want someone to catch them destroying or mishandling evidence.
You Can Sue a Trucking Company for Fatigued Driving
If a fatigued truck driver has injured you, you can file a lawsuit or claim against the trucking company that employs them. The truck driver is an agent of the trucking company, and their actions are the same as their employer’s, so long as they acted within the scope of their employment when the accident happened. If the trucker drove on company time, they will meet this criterion.
Suing a corporate defendant may increase the size of your settlement. The trucking company likely has a large insurance policy to cover your accident injuries.
Maybe a fatigued truck driver could not maneuver to avoid the accident and made it worse. As a result, you are likely more seriously injured in a fatigued driving accident. Thus, the combination of more severe injuries and a larger insurance policy means that fatigued driving crashes can result in a large check for you and your family.
You Need a Dedicated Lawyer to Handle Your Truck Accident Case
Trying to take on the insurance company by yourself is never a good idea. They have teams of lawyers and adjusters that share a common goal; to pay out as little as possible on each one of the claims they handle. Additionally, should your case make it to court, numerous complex court rules will take a significant effort on your part to learn.
An experienced truck accident lawyer will fight for you to receive every possible dollar for your truck accident injuries. If you have suffered a severe injury, you will need this money in the future. Your lawyer will handle the negotiations with the insurance company, which is trying to underpay your claim because they know the exact potential liability they face.
The key is getting an attorney working on your case immediately, right after the accident. If you cannot make the call, your family member should. An attorney can even come to you. If you wait too long to hire a lawyer and get started, you can be at risk of being taken advantage of by the insurance company. You put your legal rights at risk every minute a lawyer does not represent you.