In recent years, a hot-topic issue of awareness is driving while fatigued and the danger sleepy drivers pose to everyone on the road.
Drowsy driving is hazardous for any motorist, and especially so when the tired operator in question is behind the wheel of an 80,000-pound large commercial truck capable of annihilating smaller vehicles in its path.
Driver fatigue plays a role in up to 100,000 accidents reported each year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But this is likely a conservative estimate, considering that many motorists who caused an accident while drowsy may be reluctant to admit it.
While anyone who operates a vehicle without adequate rest can be a drowsy driver, commercial truck drivers appear to be particularly susceptible to this behavior. It could be due to the many hours they spend on the road.
If you were injured in a crash caused by a commercial driver who you believe was drowsy or dozing off at the time of the accident, here's what you need to know.
What is Highway Hypnosis?
Also known as white line fever, highway hypnosis is a phenomenon that's common among truck drivers and other people who spend a lot of time on the road. Watching the road for long periods of time can put truckers in a dazed, trance-like state where the body still performs all the functions of driving, but the mind is elsewhere. In this condition, the driver is technically awake, but his brain activity more closely resembles that of someone who is asleep.
Some truckers may wonder: if their bodies are still capable of driving why it matters if they're a little “zoned out?” The answer is simple. The mind works much slower in this trance-like state, which makes for reduced reaction times. The weight of large commercial vehicles means operators require greater stopping distance and other special handling, so it's important for them to be able to react to traffic issues, road hazards, or adverse weather conditions as quickly as possible.
Additionally, highway hypnosis can cause an already tired trucker to become even sleepier, which greatly increases his chances of falling asleep while driving.
The Problem of Driver Fatigue
Despite all the research available on the dangers of drowsy driving, some commercial truck operators and other motorists still refuse to take it seriously. They just don't see driving while being a little sleepy as being that bad. After all, it's not like they downed a bottle of wine and got behind the wheel—or is it?
According to research from the National Sleep Foundation, driving while sleepy can be every bit as impairing as driving under the influence of alcohol. For example, after being awake for 18 hours straight, a driver has the reaction capabilities of someone with a blood alcohol level of .05—and .08 is considered legally intoxicated. A trucker who's been awake for a full 24 hours has the reaction capabilities of someone with a blood alcohol level of .10.
FMCSA Hours-of-Service Rules
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulates interstate trucking in the United States. In 2013, it implemented hours-of-service rules in an attempt to combat drowsy driving and related accidents. The rules limit the length of a driver's road shift, and mandate breaks and other rest periods.
While these regulations should go a long way to reduce the number of drowsy commercial drivers on the road, the FMCSA rules aren't well-received by some people the trucking industry. In fact, in order to meet certain demands, many truckers continue to work beyond the specified hours of service and simply falsify their daily service logs to feign compliance.
Do You Need a Truck Accident Attorney?
Were you injured in a serious truck accident caused by a fatigued commercial driver? If so, you may be eligible for compensation for medical bills, property damage, lost wages, and other damages. Contact Sevenish Law today to schedule a free initial case consultation.