Exploring The Truth And Danger Of Sleep-Deprived Truckers
Understanding The Problem
Every day, we drive alongside huge commercial trucks. Large trucks are more difficult to steer and stop. Large trucks are more difficult to maneuver. Large trucks present visibility issues and blind spots for drivers. Commercial trucks require skilled, healthy and alert drivers. I’ve written frequently about trucker safety. In an article last September, I addressed the growing problem of trucker fatigue on Alabama roads and highways. My prior article is titled Truck Driver Fatigue: Research Reveals A Growing Problem.
In my prior article, I mentioned research showing 41% of transportation workers suffer severe sleep deprivation problems. I actually believe the reality is worse and that current research understates the problem. Regardless of my opinion, a study showing almost half the workers on our roads and highways suffering from serious sleep deficits should concern all of us. After all, our loved ones travel around giant trucks every day in Alabama!
At our firm, we understand the scope of this safety issue. Because of that, we investigate the issue in all our truck crash cases. Outside our specific cases, we discuss the issue at seminars and in articles like this one. We hope to raise safety awareness and reduce the problem on our roads.
Discovering The Truth
What do I mean by discovering the truth? I mean looking at each case to determine if driver fatigue caused the crash. Sometimes the cause of a car or truck crash is obvious.
Consider a drunk driving accident. Usually, the evidence of a drunk driving crash is obvious. Witnesses at the scene may observe the driver acting impaired. The driver or car may smell like alcohol. Law enforcement may conduct tests proving impairment. Or, paramedics and hospital staff may test or document the presence of drugs or alcohol.
Fatigue-related crashes are different. Drivers rarely (think never) admit they were drowsy or fell asleep. Commercial truck drivers certainly do not admit fatigue at the crash scene. In the moments after a crash, drivers often feel a rush of adrenaline. This rush of adrenaline is why many drivers do not realize they are hurt in the moments after a wreck. Adrenaline briefly increases the trucker’s alertness and masks his fatigue at the scene.
In a few cases, you might have a witness who saw the driver nod-off before the crash. But, it’s unlikely. With no witnesses, no direct evidence, no admissions, and no conclusive tests, how do you discover the truth? How do you piece together the puzzle that leads to the truth? What are the characteristics of a fatigue-related crash? Here are four:
The Crash Involves Certain Hours. According to traffic research, fatigue-related truck crashes often occur at two times of the day. These are (1) from midnight to 7am; and, (2) during the mid-afternoon ‘siesta’ time of increased sleepiness which usually occurs around 3pm. We all know that mid-afternoon energy lull. Trust me, it’s the hardest time for witnesses and jurors to focus at trial as well.
The Crash Involves NO Driver Avoidance Activities. When alert drivers sense a hazard, they react. Hit the brakes. Slow down. Skid. Steer away. When you investigate and reconstruct an accident, you see these accident-avoidance behaviors. You see skid marks showing sudden braking. You see cars angled or impacted in different directions showing the driver tried to avoid the crash. This post-accident evidence is absent in crashes where the driver fell asleep.
The Crash Involves A High Speed. When drivers are alert, they instinctively slow when they see an immediate danger. Fatigue drivers are not aware and do not slow. Accidents involving fatigued (or sleeping) drivers often occur at high speeds.
The Crash Involves Solo Drivers. Too many people drive tired. Whether alone or with passengers, fatigued drivers experience slower perception and reaction times. Yet, passengers may serve to keep the tired driver awake.
In commercial truck accident cases, you must look closely at the evidence. Witnesses who observed the driver’s behavior along the highway can be very important. Physical evidence at the scene is key. This evidence can include skid marks, damaged vehicles, vehicle black boxes, road and grass markings, and other evidence. Documents that note the trucker’s hours of service and health can also be very important. A skilled lawyer and his accident reconstruction experts are often needed to look closely at fatigue-related factors.
Learning The Risks
What factors lead to dangerous truck driver fatigue? Here are four:
Long Hours. Trucking is solitary work. It involves long hours. Unfortunately, a few companies and drivers feel tempted to drive beyond allowed hours. This puts everyone in danger.
Poor Schedules. Many drivers do not follow normal waking and sleeping hours. Ask people who regularly work night shifts. Many will admit to sleep difficulties. During my first summer in college, I worked night shift at a car plant near Athens. While it was a great opportunity for a college kid to gain valuable experience, I never fully adjusted to my altered sleep schedule. Thankfully, it was temporary.
Stopping The Lies
What do I mean? Most trucking companies and their drivers are not going to admit sleeping behind the wheel. In the moments after a serious truck crash, many trucking companies dispatch rapid response teams to the scene. You can read more on this topic in my article, Injured By A Big Truck? Beware The Rapid Response Team. I’ve handled commercial truck crash cases where the rapid response team arrived while injured drivers were still at the scene. I’ve handled a trucking case where the truck driver would not exit his rig until his company’s team arrived. After these teams arrive, mysterious things may occur. In one of my cases, a state trooper allowed the trucking company to take its truck and clean it before any inspection. In another, the trooper’s first report (which said the trucker caused the crash) disappeared and a better one for the company was published. Fortunately, the trooper admitted the truth under oath.
A few days ago I read an article discussing a truck crash in south Alabama. In that case, documents revealed the trucker had complained 25 times of serious sleepiness while driving in the three months leading up to the crash. The trucker even experienced a sleep-related event shortly before the crash. Yet, nine hours after the crash, the trucking company’s insurer suggested someone drive the trucker to a local hospital where he could “document” an unforeseen medical event that caused him to pass out while driving. Of course, if true, the trucker would have told the paramedics at the scene this important fact! He did not.
In a commercial truck injury case, you can expect a team of people working against you. These teams are good, are quick, and know every trick. If you are severely injured, you absolutely need to hire aggressive and skilled legal counsel. It’s important to your claim and recovery.
As friends and neighbors sitting on juries in these cases, we must also protect our communities. Dangerous truck drivers and the companies who distort the truth (and defraud the public) should be punished. Our families and friends deserve safe highways. Indeed, the many safe truckers using our roads also deserve highways free of the few who put them in danger. The only way to make our roads safe is to hold the few bad trucking companies fully accountable.
From its office in Huntsville, the Blackwell Law Firm represents injured clients across Alabama. If you have questions about a personal injury law issue, let us know. We’ve written articles on many injury-related legal issues. We’ve also written an extensive FAQ section on our website. If you would like to discuss an issue, call us. Consultations are always free and confidential.