Truck Driver Fatigue — A Deadly Hazard

The Insurance Journal recently discussed a tragic highway death. A trucker fell asleep and fatally struck another person. Trucker fatigue is a tremendous hazard that is all too common on our highways. According to a recent survey, one-half of the truckers on our roads admitted to falling asleep while driving in the course of a year. That’s right – half of all truckers fell asleep while driving in a single year. That fact is alarming.

Despite the danger of deadly accidents from trucker fatigue, trucking company lobbyists have been pushing for rule changes allowing longer trucker hours. For a discussion about trucking industry efforts to make our roads less safe, please see our post Trucking Lobbyists Push To Relax Safety Rules. We have been following closely the push by industry lobbyists to change important safety rules.

Here are two major reasons for dangerous trucker fatigue.

  1. Trucker Hours. Last year, we resolved a commercial trucking case where the driver had caused several prior crashes. Despite a poor safety record, that driver had not been disciplined for any of the prior wrecks. Yet, the one time that driver was late with a delivery, the company threatened him with termination. The message was clear — on the road hours were more important than safety. Truck drivers often face tremendous pressure to drive as many hours as possible.
  2. Trucker Health. Much of the focus on driver fatigue concerns driver hours. And, it should. However, driver health is often an overlooked factor on the issue of driver fatigue. Last year, we resolved a large truck case where the trucker did not see our client in time to avoid the crash. A more alert driver would have seen and avoided the collision with our client. Our investigation revealed a driver with a long history of major sleep apnea. The driver stayed fatigued due a lack of sleep. While the trucking company’s doctor expressed significant safety concerns in the medical records, he still cleared the driver for service. Many truck drivers face health conditions affecting their ability to rest or function physically. We see truckers with severe sleep apnea, painful back injuries, or other health conditions requiring unsafe medications. In truck wreck cases, it is important to investigate thoroughly the truck driver’s medical condition as well as his actions in the days leading up to the crash.

Driver fatigue is a major safety issue on our roads and highways. Every day, we trust the drivers around us to drive safely. Most do. But, for a few trucking companies and their drivers, profit is more important than safety. In order to protect the safety of our families on the highway, we must keep and enforce safety rules related to commercial trucks.