There are large tractor-trailers on the road all day and night. Since truck drivers have a limited amount of time that they can drive, they are looking to maximize their time to stay on schedule. Often, trucking companies might even pressure drivers to drive longer than they should so they can pack in more deliveries and orders.
You and your loved ones may be in danger based on the choices of truck drivers and trucking companies. Sometimes, drivers are out on the road when they should be resting, and you and your family may pay the price. Even though you have no financial interest in when a truck driver reaches their destination, their fatigued driving may force you to pay with your own well-being.
When a fatigued truck driver collides with your car, and you suffer serious injuries, their misjudgment to keep driving is suddenly very costly for you. Injuries can lead to piles of medical bills, lost earnings, pain and suffering, and more.
Proving a fatigued truck driver was to blame for your injuries can be more challenging than you think. Always discuss your legal options with an experienced truck accident lawyer as soon as possible.
Truck Driver Fatigue Is the Primary or Secondary Cause of Many Accidents
Fatigued truck driving is one of the greatest known dangers that tractor-trailers pose to other motorists and their passengers. Tractor trailers will weigh up to 80,000 pounds when they are fully loaded. These massive vehicles are difficult to operate and control under the best circumstances. If a driver briefly loses focus, they can lose control of their truck. When that happens, the truck can end up in a rollover accident or in another driver’s lane.
One National Transportation Safety Board study found that truck driver fatigue was a factor in roughly one-third of accidents involving large trucks. Most truck drivers have reported feeling fatigued at some point when behind the wheel. Fatigue can either mean being tired from a lack of sleep perspective or physical fatigue from a grueling job that requires peak attention and reflexes for an extended time.
Even the most experienced truck drivers struggle with fatigue. The problem is far worse for newer truck drivers just gaining experience behind the wheel. They may need help adjusting to the hours and rhythms of driving a large truck.
Truck Drivers May Feel Pressure to Place Time Over Safety
Here, the problem is that the safety interest may conflict with the financial interest of the trucking company. The trucking company needs to have its deliveries made on time. They may not tolerate a driver being late and hold it against the driver when making new assignments or even allow them to keep their job.
Even though the regulations may say one thing, the reality of the situation may say another. In the end, the truck driver may choose the course of action that presents the least threat to their own economic well-being at the expense of your safety.
Fatigue Can Keep a Driver from Controlling Their Truck
Large trucks are difficult enough to drive when the operator is vigilant and awake. Truck drivers need all their reflexes and skills to control such a large vehicle. For example, it takes almost the entire length of two football fields to bring a truck to a complete stop when the vehicle is traveling at 55 miles per hour. When driving a truck, seconds matter. Even responding to a prompt in front of the truck one second too late can lead to a serious rear-end crash.
Truck drivers also need to maintain control of their vehicles in the wake of changing road conditions. Many truck drivers are on the road at night, the same time that contractors prefer to do construction work. Work zones present sudden changes requiring extra alertness, especially in light of narrow lanes. Many truck accidents occur in work zones because the truck driver cannot adjust in time.
Further, a truck driver must steer the truck exactly right to maintain the center of gravity. Even a minute steering mistake can lead to an overturned truck. Truck drivers may over or understeer in response to changing road conditions due to driver fatigue.
The Federal Government Regulates Shifts and Requires Rest
Hours of service regulations have been around practically as long as trucks have, pre-dating the Interstate Highway System. The original rules date back to 1937. Although the initial rules were in place (with some tweaks) for nearly six decades, it was clear that they needed to be more robust to protect the general public.
In 1996, Congress directed the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to make significant changes to the rules.
However, the trucking industry is also politically powerful, and they heavily lobby lawmakers and agencies for their interests. Hours of service rules are politically unpopular, even though they protect motorists from fatigued CDL operators. The trucking industry often challenges new rules in court, and they are sometimes successful. Nonetheless, the base requirements are still in place.
Federal Restrictions on Truck Driver Shifts
Trucks must follow these FMCSA requirements:
- A truck driver may drive for no more than 11 hours in a 14-hour period. “On duty” means more than just driving the truck – it can also include required tasks such as filling out logs and visually inspecting the truck.
- A truck driver cannot be on duty for more than eight consecutive hours without taking at least a 30-minute break.
- Once the driver has reached the end of the 11 hours they are permitted to drive, they must be off duty for at least ten consecutive hours.
- Truck drivers may spend time in the truck’s sleeper berth as part of the ten consecutive hours of off-duty time.
- There is a 60/70 hour on-duty limit over a seven or eight-day period, respectively.
These rules are hard and fast limits. Whether a driver has lost time because of traffic or inclement weather does not matter. It also does not matter whether an angry customer is pressuring the trucking company for on-time delivery. Drivers must follow these rules no matter what.
However, trucking companies are under extreme time pressure to make their deliveries on time. Late deliveries can mean lost business in a very competitive field. The trucking companies may put that same pressure on their drivers, who then try to cut corners in any way they can to remain employed. Speeding and breaking the hours of service limitations are the two most common ways truck drivers try to remain on schedule.
Fatigue Can Strike Truckers Even When Following the Shift Rules
Fatigued driving does not necessarily mean that the truck driver has violated the hours of service regulations. Many drivers will be on the road at night because it maximizes the mileage they can travel within their permitted hours. However, the driver may be naturally tired at night or not get enough sleep before starting their shift. A driver can be fatigued even if they are not breaking the law. The effects and dangers for other drivers are still the same.
A FMCSA study shows that fatigue driving is related more to the time of day than the hours driven. The body is naturally drowsy at certain times, yet truck drivers are still out on the road then because they believe they can drive more.
Truck drivers may also feel fatigued for other reasons that include:
- Maintaining an unhealthy diet
- Lack of physical exercise
- Taking certain medications
In addition, fatigued driving accidents may even occur after the driver has followed the hours of service regulations. According to the FMCSA, more truck accidents occur in the driver’s first hour of a new shift after resting due to sleep inertia. They have trouble recalibrating their body to drive the truck after waking up.
You Can Get Evidence of Federal Rule Violations
In the past, truck drivers kept written logs, which they could easily falsify. Nowadays, nearly all trucks have electronic logs that record important events, including the truck’s operation hours. Otherwise known as the black box, this recorder provides key information that you can use after an accident.
Nonetheless, you will need to move quickly to obtain the black box data. The trucking company is only obligated to preserve this data for a limited time. You may find the trucking company conveniently lost or wrote over this data when it implicates the trucking company. You should hire an attorney as soon as possible after the accident to help ensure that this information is not lost.
Your lawyer will immediately send a letter to the trucking company, directing them to preserve the evidence in advance of potential litigation. Then, if the evidence disappears, the trucking company will face severe consequences in litigation, including the potential for punitive damages. Your lawyer will request the black box data in the discovery phase of the trial, where you can ask the defendant for records and documents they have in their possession.
Severe Injuries From a Fatigued Driving Crash
Fatigued truck driver accidents can often result in more severe injuries. The motorists involved in the crash have little opportunity to avoid the truck because even defensive driving will not allow them to predict what the truck driver may do when they lose control of the truck. Fatigued truck driving accidents often occur at higher speeds than other tractor-trailer crashes, or the operator has made less effort to stop.
These injuries can include:
- Broken bones
- Neck and back injuries
- Internal injuries
- Cuts and lacerations
- Soft tissue injuries
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Spinal cord injuries
When you have suffered an injury in an accident with a fatigued truck driver, you will still need to prove that they were to blame for the accident before receiving a settlement check. The truck driver will usually not admit that they were fatigued or violated federal regulations about service hours. Instead, you will still need to gather evidence about what happened to cause the accident through traditional routes, such as witness testimony and accident reports.
You can learn more about the actual truck driver in the personal injury lawsuit process. Your truck accident attorney can gather additional factual and documentary evidence. If your case proceeds in court, your lawyer can also get the truck driver under oath in a deposition, where they will ask about what the truck driver was doing before the accident and how much rest they may have gotten.
A Jury May Award Punitive Damages if the Truck Company Broke the Rules
If you can obtain evidence that the trucking company pressured the driver to travel while they were fatigued or that there was a widespread history of breaking federal rules, you may get punitive damages if your case goes to the jury. There is a long history of juries having strong reactions to dangerous safety practices at trucking companies. You can gather information about company-wide practices if your case goes through discovery. The more information you can gain, the more leverage you may have in settlement negotiations.
You Should Insist on Every Dollar Possible in a Settlement
Thus, the trucking company and their insurance carrier have their considerations while your case is pending. Although they may have every reason to settle your case, they may still drag their feet to see what you might be willing to accept. They may make some low settlement offers in the hopes of resolving your case for less than they need to pay.
If the facts and law are on your side, you have every reason to hold out for everything you deserve. You are not under the control of the insurance company, no matter how much they try to act that way.
An attorney from a top-rated Florida personal injury law firm can help you fight for every dollar you deserve, either in a settlement or in front of a jury.