Drowsy Driving – Common Cause of Semi-Truck Accidents


     By Baumgartner Law Firm

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Lack of sleep is a common cause of big rig accidents. The US Department of Transportation estimates that up to 28% of truck drivers could have sleep apnea. With a heightened awareness of the problem, regulatory precautions are likely in the near future.

Sleep deprivation is one of the leading causes of accidents on American roadways. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that perhaps as many as 100,000 accidents annually can be traced to drivers who actually doze off behind the wheel of their vehicles. In addition, they state that as many as 1500 deaths and 40,000 injuries may be caused by drowsy drivers.

If those statistics aren’t alarming enough, a study conducted by the Harvard School of Medicine – Sleep Medicine Division surmised that nearly a quarter million, or 250,000, persons fall asleep while driving each day of the year and in a survey that did not require drivers to reveal their identities – over 50% of participants admitted to driving while drowsy while another 25% revealed they had actually fallen asleep at the wheel – if only for a moment. And, with regard to semi-truck drivers as a separate group – nearly half have admitted to actually ‘drifting off’ while driving a long-haul route.

Drowsy driving is an extremely serious matter. Experts have found that driving while drowsy is similar to driving while intoxicated or drugged. An individual who has been awake for 17 or more hours could exhibit the same driving errors as a person who has a blood alcohol content level of 0.5 in some cases. Drivers who are sleep deprived or drowsy will mirror such DWI driving behaviors as impaired judgment and/or coordination, slower reaction times and/or decreased visual acuity.

The U.S. Department of Transportation and relevant agencies – such as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration – have all stepped up regulations in response to a growing concern for semi-truck accidents caused by drowsy drivers. For instance, recently, more stringent restrictions have been placed on semi drivers – limiting the number of hours he or she is permitted to drive before being required to take an imposed break – which itself must last a specific amount of time. That means that commercial or professional drivers have their driving schedules and workloads standardized to maximize safety for everyone on the road.

Even so, over-the-road drivers may be behind the wheel for up to eleven hours a day – which still presents some semblance of danger to the trucker and other drivers on the road, because driving for long periods of time, dulls the senses and leads to general lethargy and fatigue. This is especially true for truckers who drive at night because it is biologically more natural to sleep during that time.

Too, truckers may also be inclined to force themselves to continue driving even when they are tired because their companies pressure them to meet deadlines and even support skewing or misrepresenting their schedules to allow for greater time behind the wheel. This should be a concern to everyone – but especially other drivers on the road because – according to one final statistic:

In 98% of the semi-truck vs. passenger vehicle accidents in which there is a death, the person killed was in the passenger vehicle.

Sleep apnea has become a major issue within the DOT, because studies have indicated that the condition is a major cause of daytime sleepiness. Falling asleep at the wheel can be deadly for anyone, but when it applies to a commercial truck driver operating and 80,000 pound vehicle, it can be catastrophic for anyone in the trucks path.

Because of the many incidents of fatal accidents involving drowsy drivers, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has taken upon itself to study sleep apnea and take steps to educate both motor carriers and commercial drivers.

Some of the warning signs of potential sleep apnea include:

*Excessive snoring
*Constant daytime sleepiness
*Disturbed sleep
*Concentration and memory issues and
*Choking or gasping while sleeping.

The good news is that sleep apnea can be both recognized and treated. There are many sleep study centers across the country that provides specialized testing to diagnose those who suffer from sleep apnea.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration suspects that as many as 28% of commercial truck drivers have sleep apnea. Under the Federal Regulations, a truck driver who suffers from sleep apnea would be disqualified from driving if they have moderate to severe sleep apnea, which would interfere with their fitness for driving.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Greg Baumgartner
Greg Baumgartner is a Houston personal injury attorney and also the founder of the Baumgartner Law Firm-

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.



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