The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates approximately 100,000 traffic accidents occur each year because of fatigued drivers, leading to tens of thousands of injuries and hundreds of deaths. A portion of these injuries and deaths occur because of truck driver fatigue. Fatigue refers to a condition resulting from physical or mental exertion that impairs a person’s performance and productivity.
Truckers are especially prone to fatigue. In fact, a large study performed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) found that approximately 13 percent of commercial truck drivers suffered from fatigue at the time of their crashes. In this blog, we explore common causes of driver fatigue and the regulations the FMCSA has in place for truckers to prevent or reduce fatigued driving.
Common Causes of Truck Driver Fatigue
On a broad level, all truck driver fatigue occurs because truckers do not get the sleep they need, but what prevents truck drivers from sleeping? Below we cover the reasons why some truckers feel drowsy or fail to get the rest they need to safely drive their trucks without being fatigued.
Long Work Hours
The trucking industry is notorious for demanding work schedules that include long work hours and sometimes driving overnight. Truck drivers transport goods that consumers want and need. As a result, they often have to work more than an eight-hour day to meet their job requirements. Long hours make it difficult to always get the sleep a driver needs to operate their vehicle safely. In their research about the relationship between sleep and driving, the FMCSA found that drivers who go 18 hours without sleep suffer the same level of impairment as drivers who have a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08.
Whether a driver makes long trips across the nation or is home every night, it is unlikely they head right to bed once they stop driving for the day. Some activities outside the workday contribute to driver fatigue. Two examples are heavy drinking and hard manual labor. Non-work activities can contribute to truck driver fatigue, especially when drivers do not get enough rest before getting behind the wheel again.
FMCSA research has found that an unhealthy lifestyle, especially a poor diet, greatly increases the likelihood that a truck driver will suffer from fatigue. Truck drivers often get meals at fast-food restaurants and/or truck stops, and they do not often eat at regular times. Skipping meals or eating foods high in unhealthy fats and carbohydrates contribute to drowsiness. Additionally, consuming sugary soft drinks and meals creates an artificial sugar high, leading to a crash soon after the body processes the meal. Finally, poor diet habits also lead to diabetes, which also causes drowsiness that can lead to dangerous truck accidents.
Some truck drivers might be on medication that makes them drowsy. It is unlikely a doctor will prescribe a medicine that impacts a truck driver’s ability to operate a vehicle safely. However, if a driver does not take medication as prescribed and mixes it with other substances, it can lead to fatigue. Similarly, drivers might experience drowsiness or fatigue as a less common effect of a new medication, or they might have insomnia as a side effect.
Untreated Sleep Disorders
Truck drivers, like others who struggle with obesity or breathing issues, might have untreated sleep disorders. Sleep apnea is the most common sleep disorder. It occurs when someone quits breathing while they sleep. Treatment includes medication and a special machine to sleep until someone can deal with their underlying conditions, often obesity. Truck drivers who are unaware of their sleep issues wake up without complete rest and suffer from fatigue.
Anxiety/Mental Health Struggles
Some truck drivers struggle with anxiety, depression, or other mental health struggles that can impact their sleep patterns. Untreated mental health issues can lead to emotional exhaustion and fatigue, impairing drivers. Similarly, anxiety and worry can prevent truckers from falling asleep or staying asleep to get the rest they need. Even those diagnosed and treated for certain mental health disorders still sometimes struggle to get medications right or cope with their issues in a way that allows them to sleep peacefully.
FMCSA Hours of Service Regulations
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is the government agency primarily responsible for regulating the trucking industry. They research safety issues and create and implement regulations to keep drivers and others who share the road safe from accidents and injury. The FMCSA understands the dangers of truck driver fatigue, as evidenced by the Hours of Service (HOS) regulations. HOS rules dictate how long a driver can operate a commercial vehicle each day and each week.
Here is a broad overview of HOS rules truck drivers must follow:
- Truckers can only drive a maximum of 11 hours after having 10 hours off duty.
- Truckers can only be on duty for 14 hours each day after a 10-hour break.
- Truckers must take a 30-minute break after driving for eight hours.
- Truckers can only drive a total of 60 hours during seven days on duty or 70 hours during eight days on duty. They can restart their week after a 34-hour rest period.
The FMCSA does make some exceptions that extend hours for inclement weather and “short-haul” drivers who do not travel more than 150 miles from where they report to work.
Although the FMCSA has HOS rules in place, they do not eliminate the problem. In the past, trucking companies regularly pushed drivers to ignore HOS rules or strongly implied that they should cheat their logbooks, known as running “hot.” Today, most trucks have electronic logs, so cheating on logbooks is more difficult; however, it still happens.
Truck driver fatigue is common, and it leads to preventable accidents. If you have suffered truck accident injuries, a fatigued trucker might be to blame. If so, you have legal options to recover losses related to your injuries. An experienced truck accident lawyer can review your claim and advise you on the best path forward. Contact The Fernandez Firm Accident Injury Attorneys today.