Drowsy Driving Truck Accidents

Large commercial trucks are powerful forces on New Jersey highways, far outweighing smaller passenger cars. When these unwieldy, up to 18,000-pound vehicles have a drowsy driver behind the wheel they pose a significant threat to vulnerable motorists sharing the roadway. Unfortunately, the very nature of long-distance truck driving makes a driver more likely to experience fatigue and sleepiness behind the wheel. Long hours on the road, the monotony of driving, and poor sleep are dangerous combinations for drivers of heavy commercial vehicles.

Truck drivers and those sharing the roadways with large commercial trucks should understand the causes and risks of drowsy driving and the impacts of truck accidents caused by fatigued drivers. In the event of a serious accident or injury, a Cherry Hill personal injury lawyer can help navigate your case for compensation.

Truck driving with drowsy driver.

The Dangers of Drowsy Driving

Truck accidents caused by a drowsy driver result in catastrophic injuries and fatalities that far outweigh other accident types. A dozing driver does not attempt to swerve or brake causing the impact in a collision to occur at full speed with a tremendous crash force. A smaller passenger vehicle has a significant disadvantage in a collision with a massive truck moving at full highway speed.

Studies show that drowsiness causes impairment that’s similar to intoxication, often with the following effects:

  • Slowed reaction times
  • Distorted vision
  • Lack of coordination
  • Frequent blinking
  • Impaired judgment
  • Poor decision-making ability
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Inattention to surroundings while on the verge of sleep

All of the above impacts of drowsy driving make a large commercial truck a serious danger to others on the roadway. A driver who falls asleep behind the wheel is the biggest threat to vulnerable motorists. A truck becomes a massive weapon without an alert driver controlling its direction or speed.

Drowsy Driving Truck Accident Statistics

Many organizations collect and report truck accident statistics, including those resulting from drowsy driving. Still, the numbers likely remain underreported. The following startling truck accident statistics show the dangers of drowsy truck drivers on the road:

  • Drowsy driving causes an estimated 8,000 truck accidents each year
  • 13% of commercial truck drivers admitted to feeling fatigued before a truck accident
  • 43% of truck drivers report frequently feeling fatigued while driving
  • 10% of fatal crashes are caused by large trucks despite the fact that they make up a smaller percentage of vehicles on the road compared to passenger cars
  • 56% of long-haul truckers report feeling drowsy while driving
  • Research shows the highest danger of drowsy truck driving occurs during night driving hours
  • Cumulative fatigue over days of driving increases the chances of drowsy driving accidents
  • One AAA study using simulated night-time driving revealed that truck drivers rarely took breaks even if they perceived they were sleepy and 75% of the drivers reported their drowsiness level as low even when their measurable symptoms showed moderate to severe drowsiness

According to AAA, drivers should get at least 7 hours of sleep before beginning a driving shift and then take breaks every two hours or after every 100 miles of driving.

Recognizing Signs of Fatigued Driving

Truck drivers should never ignore the symptoms of drowsiness, but should instead promptly address the situation and take corrective measures such as finding a safe location to pull over for a nap, or taking a break with a caffeinated beverage. Common signs of drowsy driving include the following:

  • Wandering thoughts or dazed feeling
  • Frequent blinking
  • Heavy eyelids
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Nodding head
  • Drifting out of the lane or onto the warning strips on the edge of the road
  • Inability to recall the last few miles driven
  • Repeatedly yawning
  • Missing traffic signs or not recognizing a current location
  • Tailgating
  • Jerking back into the correct lane

When a truck driver experiences any of the above indicators, they have a duty to remove themselves from the road to prevent causing an accident.

Causes of Truck Driver Fatigue

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration places strict limits on the number of hours a truck driver may work per shift and requires regular driving breaks. However, despite these laws, driving while fatigued is still a common problem among commercial truckers. Common causes of truck driver drowsiness include:

  • Accidental or intentional violations of driving hour restrictions
  • Unrealistic demands by trucking company managers
  • Highway hypnosis (becoming dazed by long, straight highways with few landscape features)
  • Lack of sleep during off-duty hours due to difficulty sleeping while on the road
  • Physical impacts from sitting for long stretches of time behind the wheel
  • Impairment from legal or illegal substances
  • Boredom, monotony

Truck drivers have a duty to recognize drowsiness and promptly take action to address the problem so they don’t present a danger to other motorists on the road. 

Tips for Avoiding Drowsy Driving

Commercial truck drivers have a legal duty to keep accurate driving logs and abide by the federal driving hour limits. Besides carefully following the laws limiting hours, drivers can avoid drowsy driving by doing the following:

  • Taking frequent breaks and walking around to promote blood circulation and oxygenation
  • Drinking caffeinated beverages
  • Listening to lively music or interesting podcasts while driving
  • Getting adequate sleep during off-duty hours
  • Undergoing a sleep study if they have difficulty sleeping or undiagnosed sleep apnea
  • Keeping good airflow in the truck cab
  • Avoid eating heavy foods
  • Drive only during normal awake hours
  • Avoid medications that cause drowsiness

If a driver feels sleepy or overly fatigued, they should not continue driving, but should take a rest stop and have a short nap followed by a caffeinated beverage.

How Can a Cherry Hill Lawyer Help?

When a large commercial truck is in an accident involving smaller vehicles, the worst injuries are far more likely to occur to the motorists in the smaller vehicle. If you or a loved one suffered serious injuries in a commercial truck accident, your Cherry Hill truck accident attorney from Cuneo & Leonetti can help by investigating the cause of the accident, including examining the driver logs for irregularities in driving hours. Most of today’s trucks have “black box” data recorders that store information before and during a crash. This data may indicate that the driver engaged in common drowsy driving behaviors before the crash. It often takes an experienced attorney to obtain these records from reluctant truck-driving companies to prove negligence. Even in no-fault insurance states like New Jersey, a truck driver or the company they work for can be held accountable for catastrophic injury damages like medical expenses, lost wages, and disability.