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Why Do So Many Truck Drivers Drive Tired?

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With more than 4 million semi-trucks currently in operation, commercial trucking is a $875-billion dollar industry in the United States. The demand for these services puts significant pressure on professional truck drivers to push beyond their mental and physical limits.

Drowsy driving is a significant problem in the trucking industry, and one that anyone who utilizes public roads should be concerned about. Drowsy driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving. In fact, the effects of sleeplessness on the body are similar to alcohol impairment. Fatigue has a negative effect on many of the functions truckers need to drive safely: coordination, vision, judgement, and reaction time. Someone who goes 24 hours without sleep is as impaired as someone with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.10 percent. That is over the legal limit of 0.08 in Ohio and most other states.  

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Large Truck Causation Studyfound that up to 13 percent of commercial truckers are fatigued at the time of a truck accident. Driver fatigue is a top cause of truck accidents in this country.

There are several reasons why so many truck drivers operate their vehicles while fatigued.

Irregular Sleep Patterns

Driving a truck is an unpredictable job. Despite a driver’s best efforts to maintain a schedule, there is no way to predict accidents, traffic jams, or delays with loading and unloading. These hiccups and delays make for an irregular schedule that affects the natural sleep/wake schedule.

Sleep deprivation is a real the disruption of the body’s circadian rhythms, or patterns of rest and activity. One in 10 shift workers have a diagnosable shift-work sleep disorder, which may be linked to chronic fatigue, multiple health problems, and an increased risk of accidents.

Underlying Medical Conditions

Truck driving is also a largely sedentary job. Spending hours behind the wheel without exercise and eating on the road (often unhealthy fast-food) over time can lead to a number of serious health problems.  According to the CDC, long-haul truckers have a greater risk of:

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Sleep apnea
  • Smoking

Fatigue is sign or symptom of these and other conditions, along with some medications used to treat them. Several health problems are also linked to sleep disturbances, which over time can lead to chronic fatigue and drowsy driving.

Highway Hypnosis

Most commercial trucking routes involve long, monotonous stretches of highway. Without the need to make frequent turns and stops, it is easy to daydream and lose focus. Driving for long periods of time without interruption is shown to have a hypnotic effect on the brain. That state of mind increases the driver’s chance of dozing off behind the wheel.

Lack of Downtime

Many commercial truckers have irregular schedules, spending weeks on the road and returning home for a few days before heading back out. Trucks drivers may make up for lost time once they return, planning a packed schedule of activities with family and friends. That hectic routine does not leave much time for drivers to rest and recharge, leaving them feeling just as exhausted leaving as they did when they first came home.

Pressure From Employers

Despite laws and regulations in place to ensure truck drivers are not overworked, drowsy driving among truckers continues to be a problem. That suggests that employers are not doing enough to protect their employees and ensure they are getting the rest they need.

Truckers may feel the pressure from their employer to meet tight deadlines and push their limits—no matter how tired they feel. Also, some companies pay by the mile, causing drivers to work even longer hours to make up for time lost if they get caught in traffic or have to slow down in bad weather.

How Can Drowsy Driving Truck Accidents Be Prevented?

Fortunately, the federal government has made great strides in recent decades to making trucking safer for truck drivers and the general public. The best way to prevent driver fatigue is to abide by HOS rules.

These regulations determine how many hours truck drivers can work before they have to take mandated rest breaks and how many hours they can work per week. Employers should create a culture where rest is prioritized and HOS violations have severe consequences.

However, it is possible for truck drivers to become fatigue even when they follow HOS guidelines. Driver training is essential to raise awareness about the dangers of drowsy driving. Truck drivers should recognize the signs of fatigue and take steps to pull over and rest when necessary. They should never be penalized for putting safety first.

Trucking companies and drivers have a duty to operate trucks safely in accordance with traffic laws. That includes taking steps to make sure drivers have the rest they need to make safe decisions behind the wheel every day. If you or someone you care about has been seriously hurt by a negligent driver, contact a truck accident lawyer to discuss your options.

Dayton Truck Accident Lawyers at Wright & Schulte LLC Provide Legal Guidance With Care and Compassion

Drowsy driving truck accidents often cause significant injuries. If you need legal help after an accident, speak with our Dayton truck accident lawyers at Wright & Schulte LLC. Call us at 937-222-7477 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation today. Located in Dayton, Ohio, we serve clients in Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, Centerville, Toledo, Youngstown, and Miamisburg.