Drowsy drivers are a real problem on American roadways. Studies show that tiredness impacts our driving abilities in much the same ways that drunkenness does. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, tired drivers were responsible for at least 91,000 accidents, 50,000 injuries, and 800 fatalities in 2017 alone.
While these numbers are consistent from year to year, there is widespread agreement that the true figures are much higher. Unlike drunkenness, fatigued drivers are difficult to identify, especially after an accident, when the adrenaline is pumping. Simply put, people are reluctant to admit when they drive tired.
Fatigued truck drivers are more dangerous drivers
This drowsy driving problem is even worse when trucks are involved. First, accidents with trucks are potentially catastrophic, as the standard motor vehicle is no match for a semi. This means that fatigued truck drivers can cause far more damage than tired motorists can.
Second, truck drivers must meet tight deadlines, which means that they’re more likely to drive while fatigued. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration reports that at least 13% of truck drivers are sleep-deprived at the time of their accidents. Again, because truckers probably don’t admit when they’re not getting enough sleep, the true number is likely to be much higher.
How fatigue impairs truckers’ driving ability
To fully understand why drowsy driving is such a big problem, we have to recognize how fatigue impairs driving ability. Studies show that there are a few ways that tiredness affects us while we’re behind the wheel.
Falling asleep while driving
According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 4% of drivers report that they have fallen asleep at the wheel sometime within the past month, and 20% have within the past year. Captain Obvious here: if you’re not awake, you can’t operate your vehicle.
Further, even if tired drivers don’t fall completely asleep, they’re still prone to zoning out. A temporary loss of full consciousness can be just as dangerous as falling asleep.
Slowed reaction time
Fatigue slows reaction time. This directly impairs our driving ability, as quick reactions can be the difference between a narrow escape and a major accident—in other words, the difference between life and death.
Drowsiness also decreases our attentiveness. This means that drowsy drivers are less aware of what’s happening on the road. That means they’re less able to look and plan ahead, to practice defensive driving, and to avoid potential hazards.
Impaired judgment and decision-making
Finally, fatigue impairs our decision-making abilities, which creates a whole host of problems while behind the wheel. For example, tiredness makes us irritable, which leads to aggressive driving. It also makes us more likely to speed or cut corners, as our judgment declines and we hurry toward our destinations.
Regulations curtail truck driver fatigue
There are federal and state regulations that are designed to keep tired truck drivers off the road. Chief among them is a restriction that prohibits commercial truck drivers from being on the road for more than 11 consecutive hours. Another says that truckers can’t be on duty for more than 60 hours per week.
If drivers violate these regulations and then get into an accident, a court is likely to find them liable for any injuries. Further, their employers may be liable too.
What to do if you’re in a motor vehicle accident with a truck
If you’re involved in a car accident with a truck, it’s critical that you contact an attorney right away. Don’t allow an insurance company to tell you what you’re entitled to—and what they think you should walk away from.