Attorney Discusses Role of Sleep in Truck Accidents
Posted on January 29th, 2014 by Zane Cagle
Heavy-vehicle driving or over-the road truck driving is challenging work because it requires hours of high attention and the crash rate factor is high. When truck drivers do crash, it often involves serious injuries or fatalities for the passenger cars with whom they collide.
A study in Australia investigated the association of sleepiness, sleep disorders, and work environment including truck characteristics with the risk of crashing between 2008 and 2012 in the Australian states of New South Wales and Western Australia.
Findings of the Study
The researchers studied 530 heavy vehicle drivers who had recently crashed and 517 heavy-vehicle drivers who had not crashed. Drivers’ crash histories, truck details, driving schedules, payment rates, sleep patterns and measures of health were all collected. Driving schedules including the period of time between midnight and 5:59 a.m. were associated with increased likelihood of crashing. Failure to take regular breaks and lack of vehicle safety devices also were associated with increased risk for crashing.
Parallels with Heavy Vehicle Drivers in the United States
The Australian study is helpful for motorist in the United States because many of the same factors can be looked at in both countries. The US. Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has done much research on large truck causation studies in concert with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to examine the reasons for serious crashes involving large trucks (over 10,000 pounds) such as the study in 2007. Like the Australian study, researchers have examined a sample of 963 crashed involved 1,123 large trucks and 959 motor vehicles that were not large trucks. The 963 crashes resulted in 249 fatalities and 1,654 injuries. Of the 1,123 large truck in the sample, 77 percent were tractors pulling a single semi-trailer and 5 percent were truck carrying hazardous materials. Of the 963 crashes in the sample, 73 percent involved a large truck colliding with at least one other vehicle
Motor vehicle accidents are complex events that usually involve two or more vehicles. Factors that influence the event of a crash may take place hours, days or months before the crash. They include driver training and experience, vehicle design and manufacture, highway conditions and traffic signaling and weather conditions. Other factors may take place immediately before a crash such as a decision to turn, a tire blowout, or lack of maintenance or braking power. Crash reconstruction experts rarely conclude that crashes are the result of a single factor.
Fatigue, drinking alcohol, and speeding are major factors in motor vehicle crashes overall. Although their presence may not always result in a crash, these three factors as well as other drivers, vehicle and environmental factors can increase the risk of crashes.
National Crash Estimates
According to NHSTA’s estimate, there were approximately 120,000 fatal and injury crashes nationwide during the 33 month 2007 student that involved at least one large truck; 141,000 large truck were involved in those crashes. Each of the 963 study cases was assigned a sampling weight, which allowed for national estimate of total fatal and injury truck crashes during the study period
Truck Crashes and Driver Fatigue
While fatigue is recognized as one of the major risk factors for all drivers and a known contributing factor in road crashes and actually rivaling alcohol and speeding, driver fatigue is harder to identify. Driver fatigue can strike at any time no matter the experience level of the driver. Estimates suggest that fatigue is a factor in up to 30% of fatal crashes and 15% of serious injury crashes. Within the heavy vehicle industry, fatigue is thought to have contributed to approximately 25% of insurance losses.
Driver Fatigue is Difficult to Identify
Unlike alcohol use or drug us, driver fatigue is harder to identify because no test is available. Likely, the impact of driver fatigue is under represented in many studies for that very reason. While there is not doubt that over the road drivers are skilled drivers, skill cannot overcome a biological need for sleep. The risks of fatigue are greater for these drivers because of the nature and demands of their work. The demands of the job often interfere with the opportunities for normal rest. A recent report from National Truck Accident Research Centre (NTARC) confirmed that midnight to daybreak period of time continues to be the highest risk period. Driving during times when the body would naturally be sleeping disrupts the sleep/wake cycle which can have further fatigue and detrimental effects on driving and safety.
Changing up Drive Times and More Driver Breaks
Truck drivers are on the road to make money. That is how they make their living—getting one load to the correct destination in a certain amount of time. Sometimes the transportation company has quotas to fill and serving their customers becomes priority one. We all understand that, correct? But, what about these truck drivers who spend eight to 10 hour stretches driving trying to make a delivery on time. Researchers in Australia did find that when drivers reduced their time of driving to avoid midnight to 6 a.m. driving. Some think this may be counterintuitive since most think truck drivers would be more safe when the interstates and highways have less traffic. But research would say otherwise. Naturally, this is a time for increased risk of sleepiness for many truck drivers and higher risk for less attentive driving. As well, it has been found that when drivers take more rest breaks they are better rejuvenated so they can be more attentive while driving.
Who Can Make These Changes?
The individual truck driver is fairly powerless to change his/her schedule. They pick up loads and are responsible for transporting those loads across many miles in a certain amount of time. So who can institute these changes? Transportation companies. Much of the time, the philosophy of “time is money” is still true and transportation companies will have to institute these safety changes and monitor drivers by not giving them unreasonable time frames as well as making breaks and sleep time mandatory. Trucking companies are required to have truck drivers keep mileage logs and break schedules, but they must enforce these logs, breaks and work on scheduling. Truck drivers are just like the rest of us–they are working to make a living and are somewhat at the mercy of the transportation companies that hire them.
Because of the impact large trucks can have on other passenger cars in collisions which usually involve serious injuries or fatalities, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) works to improve safety of over the road truck driving for the benefit of all motorist.
If you have been involved in a truck accident with a semi-truck, you know how scary and devastating it can be. Our attorneys are experts at FMCSA regulations and the regulations under which transportation companies are expected to operate. If you have been injured in one of these accidents, then you will need legal representation. Just negotiating with the carrier’s insurance company can be complicated and our personal injury attorneys know exactly how to investigate these types of accidents to determine all causes and liability. Call The Cagle Law Firm locally (314) 276-1681 or toll free (314) 276-1681 for a free consultation today.
Source: Sevenson, M.R, Elkington, J, Sharwood, L, et al (2013) The Role of Sleepiness, Sleep Disorders, and the Work Environment on Heavy Vehicle Crashes in 2 Australian States. American Journal of Epidemiology.
Craft, R. (2007) The Large Truck Crash Causation Study. U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.