How Often Do Truckers Drive While Drowsy?

Published on Apr 28, 2023 at 1:24 pm in Truck Accidents.
How Often Do Truckers Drive While Drowsy?

Exactly how often truckers drive while drowsy is a hard statistic to nail down. But the numbers we do have are alarming.

  • The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) puts the percentage of serious crashes caused by driver fatigue at about 13%, but other sources suggest the number may be as high as 40% or more.
  • The average commercial truck driver gets only about 5 hours of sleep per night, while the recommended amount of sleep for an adult is 7-8 or more hours.
  • One study found that 75% of surveyed truck drivers reported committing at least one driving error as a result of drowsiness.
  • In a study of trucker fatigue and accident rates, 18% of truck drivers self-reported having fallen asleep at the wheel while on the job.
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that, in 2017 alone, drowsy driving caused over 91,000 crashes resulting in about 50,000 injuries and 800 deaths.
  • A study conducted in North Carolina found that fall-asleep/fatigued crashes and drunk driving crashes resulted in nearly identical serious injury and fatality rates.

This last statistic—combined with everything else we know about drowsy driving—tells us that drowsy driving is as dangerous as drunk driving. In 2022, there were 1,327 large truck crashes in Mississippi out of 115,742 total truck crashes at the national level. These truck accidents resulted in 56,194 injuries and 3,343 fatalities.

It’s hard to know how many of these senseless injuries and deaths could have been prevented if drowsy driving was not such a widespread issue in the commercial trucking industry.

How Long Are Truck Drivers Allowed To Stay on the Road?

All commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers are required to follow a set of rules put in place by the FMCSA to limit driving and working hours and mandate breaks. These are known as hours-of-service (HOS) regulations.

The following rules apply to property-carrying truck drivers (a different set of regulations applies to drivers carrying passengers):

  • Truckers can drive a maximum of 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty.
  • Truckers are not allowed to drive after the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty, following 10 consecutive hours off duty.
  • The 10-hour off-duty period may be split between sleeping and being off-duty, as long as one off-duty period is at least 2 hours long and the other involves at least 7 consecutive hours spent in the sleeper berth.
  • The 11-hour driving limit and 14-hour driving window may be extended by up to 2 hours when there are adverse driving conditions related to weather.
  • Drivers must take a 30-minute non-driving break when they have driven for a period of 8 cumulative hours.
  • Truckers may not drive after 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days. The 7/8-day period can only restart after taking 34 or more consecutive hours off duty.

The Dangers of Drowsy Driving

Sleep deprivation causes a truck driver to experience a range of physical and cognitive impairments that intensify the longer they stay awake.

Long-haul truckers who work nights and irregular hours are especially susceptible to the effects of drowsy driving. Long driving hours lead to fatigue and exhaustion, irregular work hours lead to disrupted circadian rhythms, and lifestyle influences often lead to poor dietary and exercise habits. All these factors combine to make drowsy driving extremely common among long-haul truckers.

When truckers drive while drowsy, they can experience:

  • Decreased alertness
  • Increased distractibility
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Impaired decision making
  • Irritability and mood changes
  • Poor performance of tasks
  • Higher frequency of errors
  • Slowed reaction times
  • Inability to navigate or follow GPS directions
  • Missing turns and exits
  • Tunnel vision or highway hypnosis
  • Falling asleep at the wheel

In addition to the immediate effects of drowsy driving, prolonged fatigue can lead to long-term negative health consequences. Adults who get less than seven hours of sleep a night on a regular basis have an increased risk of:

  • Weight gain and having a body mass index of 30 or higher
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Depression
  • Other poor mental and physical health conditions

These health issues are dangerous to any person’s wellbeing, but they are especially hazardous to truck drivers—a population which, for the most part, already has a sedentary lifestyle, poor nutrition, and higher rates of mental health issues and addiction.

Driving a large commercial tractor-trailer while suffering the effects of any of these fatigue-related conditions is a risky operation. That’s why the FMCSA requires commercial truckers to undergo medical fitness tests on a regular basis.

The Signs of Drowsy Driving

There are certain symptoms that indicate a person may not be fit to drive. If a trucker notes any of the following signs of drowsy driving, they have a duty to take action to promote safety. Usually, that means stopping the truck and taking a rest or nap.

  • Yawning
  • Driving over rumble strips, onto road shoulders, or into other lanes
  • Frequent blinking
  • Blurred vision
  • Drifting in and out of lanes
  • Swerving
  • Driving too slowly
  • Getting too close to other vehicles

Tips for Avoiding Drowsy Driving

Drowsy driving accidents are 100% preventable. The FMCSA advises CMV drivers to adhere to tips like these for avoiding drowsy driving that can cause a crash:

  • Maintain a lifestyle that allows at least seven to eight hours of sleep per night
  • Get a full night’s rest before beginning a long haul
  • Avoid drinking alcohol within 24 hours of a long drive
  • Do not rely on caffeine—“microsleeping” (brief sleep episodes lasting from less than a second to 30 seconds) can occur even under the stimulation of caffeine
  • Pull over and take a 10-45-minute nap if needed, then wait 15 minutes before driving again
  • Stick to a healthy, nutritious diet—and avoid driving on an empty stomach or after a heavy meal
  • If possible, make long trips during daylight hours, avoiding peak sleepiness periods (midnight to 6 a.m. and in the late afternoon)
  • Do not take drugs, prescription medications, or over-the-counter medicines that have a sedative effect
  • Rolling the window down or turning the music up will only rouse you for a few minutes—do not rely on alertness methods like these to keep you safe from the effects of drowsy driving

Why Drowsy Driving Truck Accidents Are Hard To Prove

When a truck accident is caused by driver negligence, you need a strong battery of evidence to prove to the trucking company and their insurer that they are liable for the accident and resulting damages.

Unfortunately, it’s not easy to document evidence that a trucker was driving while drowsy.

Proving drowsiness is a lot more difficult than proving something like intoxication. There is no breathalyzer test that can show how fatigued a driver was at the time of the crash. Instead, investigating attorneys need to get creative when looking for proof of fatigue. When investigating truck accidents suspected to be caused by driver drowsiness, lawyers may need to look at:

  • Electronic logging devices (ELDs) that record driving hours
  • Company logbooks documenting driver schedules and dispatch times
  • Event data recorder (EDR) or “black box” information in the truck
  • Video of the trucker’s behaviors preceding the crash
  • Physical health examination results
  • Eyewitness accounts
  • Expert witness testimony
  • Past FMCSA and HOS violations committed by the company or driver

Finding Justice After a Truck Accident Caused by Drowsy Driving

While it’s difficult to prove a trucker was driving while drowsy, it’s not impossible with the help of the right lawyer. Corban Gunn, Attorney at Law is fully equipped with the knowledge, resources, and determination to help you win your fatigued driving truck accident case.

Don’t delay—the evidence you need to prove your claim may be disappearing. Don’t let the trucking company avoid liability for an accident caused by fatigued driving. Call our Mississippi personal injury law firm today to schedule your free case evaluation.



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