Driver Fatigue: The Dangers Of Drowsy Truckers


Drowsy driving is a problem in the United States, and it can be especially dangerous when it involves truck drivers. In most drowsy driving cases, the driver gets behind the wheel without having gotten enough sleep. This combination of driving and fatigue can lead to catastrophic results.

Many factors can play a part in truck accidents, including the actions of the driver. In many cases, driver fatigue is a prominent reason for collisions. It is estimated that one in every ten truck crashes are the result of driver-related actions. If you or a loved one have been affected by a drowsy truck driver, you may have legal options. The Philadelphia Truck Accident Attorneys at Raynes & Lawn will help you seek compensation for your injuries and damages.

 Truck Accidents Due to Drowsy Driving

Sleep deprivation is one of the leading causes of truck accidents on the road. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) believes that 100,000 accidents are caused by drivers who doze off at the wheel. The NHTSA also estimates that drowsy drivers cause as many as 40,000 accident-related injuries and 1,500 deaths.

The Harvard School of Medicine – Sleep Medicine Division also conducted a survey on this topic. They estimated that 250,000 people fall asleep while driving, with 50 percent of their participants admitting to driving while fatigued. Nearly half of the truck drivers had confessed to “drifting off” while on a long-haul drive.

Drowsy driving is a serious matter, and many experts believe that driving while tired is similar to driving under the influence. For example, an individual who has been operating a vehicle for 17 or more hours might have the same driving errors as a driver with a blood-alcohol level of 0.5 or more. These sleep-deprived drivers will exhibit the same behaviors of a DUI, including slower reaction times, decreased visual acuity, and impaired judgment.

In response to these issues, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) have tightened their regulations due to the concerns of truck accidents caused by drowsy drivers. For example, there are more stringent restrictions on truck drivers and the number of hours allowed on the road. These truck driver fatigue rules have limited the number of hours that a truck driver can drive before requiring a break. That break must also last for a specific amount of time. With these regulations, the commercial drivers have their schedules and workloads standardized to help keep everyone on the road safe.

Commercial and professional truck drivers can be on the road for up to 11 hours per day. Truckers can drive up to 60 hours in seven days. However, even with that amount of time, the driver may pose a risk to other drivers. Driving for extended periods can dull the senses and lead to fatigue on the road. These risk factors increase when a trucker is driving at night, and the body is ready for its natural sleep cycle.

In some cases, truck drivers will force themselves to continue driving while drowsy because their companies pressure them to meet specific deadlines. These unscrupulous companies may even support the driver misrepresenting schedules to allow them to spend more time behind the wheel. This type of behavior is reckless, and it is a concern for everyone on the road—one troubling statistic from passenger vehicles versus truck accidents. In 98 percent of these crashes, someone was killed.

 Driver Fatigue/Truck Crash Causation Study

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 1 in 25 drivers have reported falling asleep while driving. Some drivers are more likely to fall asleep at the wheel or drive while drowsy. These drivers include:

  • Commercial drivers, including tow truck drivers, bus drivers, and big rig drivers
  • People who work on the night shift
  • People who work shifts longer than 8 hours
  • People with sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea
  • Drivers on prescription medications that can cause drowsiness

The NHTSA and FMCSA surveyed to find the correlation between overworked drivers and commercial truck crashes. In many cases, these crashes resulted in serious injuries, significant vehicle damage, and fatalities. This report was known as the Truck Crash Causation Study, and it studied 12,000 commercial truck crashes over three years. These crashes accounted for 249 deaths and 1,654 injuries. In 73 percent of the crashes, the large commercial truck had collided with at least one other vehicle.

This data was collected by inspecting the crash site, interviewing drivers and witnesses of the incidents, examining driver log books, and reviewing other information. The survey researchers also looked at hospital records and police crash reports. They collected data for each crash. The accidents resulted from many factors, including:

  • The driver’s behavior
  • The condition of the driver and other drivers before the crash
  • The condition of the truck
  • The condition of other vehicles involved in the accident
  • Weather conditions
  • Roadway factors

Factors Associated With Road Accidents

Drivers are responsible for safely operating their vehicles, including not driving while drowsy. When they fail to operate the truck responsibility, they have failed their general duty of care by causing accidents that harmed property or people. Other parties may also be held responsible, including the trucking company. The trucking company could be entirely responsible if it pressured drivers to violate federal law.

Truck accidents are often very complex, with multiple causes factoring into the incident. Improper loading and inadequate maintenance can cause issues with braking and steering. In those cases, it is the responsibility of the subcontractor or the trucking company that loaded the vehicle.

Defective equipment can also lead to an accident. The manufacturer or another entity may be responsible for the parts, design, or other elements that may have failed and caused an accident.

Finally, road conditions are significant factors in accidents. A faulty or missing traffic signal can cause an accident. Unclear road construction signs or poor traffic designs can also lead to a collision. The parties who may be responsible for these issues are state, local, or city governments, and they may be liable for damages in an accident.

Learn the Warning Signs of Drowsy Driving 

There are some warning signs that you should be able to recognize before you or a loved one gets behind the wheel. By being on the lookout for these signs, you can prevent an accident on the road. Some of these warning signs include:

  • Yawning or blinking frequently
  • Missing the exit
  • Drifting in and out of the lane
  • Memory issues
  • Hitting the rumble strips on the side of the road

If you notice that a driver cannot stay in his or her lane, you need to move away from that vehicle. Drivers who exhibit this behavior may be either intoxicated or fatigued. In either case, you don’t want your car anywhere near them. You should reduce your speed and drop back from the other vehicle. If you are on the highway and must pass, make sure to move with caution. If the vehicle is exceptionally reckless, you should pull over and contact law enforcement immediately.

Factors That Contribute to Fatigue

There are many reasons for truck driver fatigue. Federal law requires truck drivers to abide by the limits of their service hours without rest breaks. After 11 hours of driving, they must take a mandated ten straight hours off.

Even with those federal rules in place, there are some problems. Truck drivers may still get fatigued or drowsy on the road. Eleven hours can be a long time behind the wheel. A maximum of 60 hours a week is also a heavy driving load for many drivers.

Additionally, drivers don’t have regular driving schedules. As a result of this, they might not be able to have a consistent sleep pattern that allows them to rest when not on the road. While they may be off the road for 10 hours, no one can enforce whether they will sleep during these hours. The irregular driving schedule can make sleep difficult for many drivers. Some drivers may be tempted to use over-the-counter drugs, like sleep aids to fall asleep. These substances can impair response time, judgment, reflexes, and driving habits.

Truck drivers may also feel some obligation to drive on the road when they are fatigued and to drive over federally regulated driving time limits. For some truck drivers, there is an immense amount of pressure from the trucking company or subcontractors. These companies make their profits by delivering cargo across great distances. By default, the truckers may feel that they must make all their deliveries by the deadlines or face the consequences. To make matters worse, the companies may set deadlines without regard to construction delays or traffic patterns.

In some cases, the trucking companies set unreasonable deadlines for their drivers. These demands can cause the drivers to engage in behavior that results in accidents by working longer hours without breaks, speeding, and violating federal standards.

Some truck drivers are paid by the mile as well. When that happens, they may feel the financial pinch when delayed by an accident, construction, or traffic jams. As a result, they may drive longer or speed to make up for that lost time.

Finally, truckers who do not operate across state lines are not required to abide by federal regulations. They must instead follow state regulations that are less strict than national standards.

Liability in Truck Driver Accidents

When a truck accident happens, there may be many people responsible for your injuries and damages, including:

  • The truck driver
  • The owner of the truck
  • The person that leases the truck from the owner
  • The manufacturer of the vehicle, tires, or other parts that have contributed to the accident
  • The loader or shipper of the cargo

When on the road, the driver and the company have a duty of care. They must protect other drivers from accidents and not engage in any reckless behavior. For the most part, drivers are professional and spend countless hours driving without an accident. Drivers are required to complete mandatory safety classes to handle many road conditions. However, for those drivers who behave irresponsibly, they must be held accountable for accidents on the road, especially those due to drowsy driving.

Fatigue Management for Truck Drivers

Every trucking accident is different. The driver’s schedule and stress tolerance can induce drowsiness, along with the hours of service. These factors do not make the roads safer. For many truckers, fatigue management would be more beneficial than adhering to service hours on the road. Fatigue management would teach drivers to relieve drowsiness by stopping to rest when they feel tired behind the wheel.

Damages To Which You May Be Entitled

When you have been involved in an accident with a truck, you may be able to seek compensation for damages. Damages are usually divided into two categories, economic and non-economic. Economic damages will reimburse you for lost wages, property damage, medical bills, and other expenses. Non-economic losses extend to non-tangible costs, including pain and suffering.

In some cases, the negligent company or driver is found to have acted extremely recklessly. When this happens, the court may award punitive damages as a deterrent for future negligent acts.

 Let Us Help You

If a fatigued truck driver hits you, you may be able to recover compensation for your losses. At Raynes & Lawn, our truck accident attorneys understand the importance of conducting a thorough investigation. We will consult with the witnesses and review evidence, including the driver’s log. Our team will determine if the driver and company violated federal law. Depending on your case, the trucking company could be held responsible for negligence. Those liable for violating driver fatigue policy and causing injuries to you or your loved one should be held accountable.

To schedule a consultation with someone from the legal team at Raynes & Lawn about your potential case, please fill out the contact form or call 800-535-1797, and someone will get back to you as soon as possible.


For the general public:  This Blog/Website is made available by the law firm publisher, Raynes Lawn Hehmeyer, for educational purposes. It provides general information and a general understanding of the law but does not provide specific legal advice. By using this site, commenting on posts, or sending inquiries through the site or contact email, you confirm that there is no attorney-client relationship between you and the Blog/Website publisher. The Blog/Website should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction.


For attorneys:  This Blog/Website is informational in nature and is not a substitute for legal research or a consultation on specific matters pertaining to your clients.  Due to the dynamic nature of legal doctrines, what might be accurate one day may be inaccurate the next. As such, the contents of this blog must not be relied upon as a basis for arguments to a court or for your advice to clients without, again, further research or a consultation with our professionals.

Let me know if you have any questions.