Trucking is a very important industry that is often referred to as “the lifeblood of our economy”. Big rig trucks transport millions of products in and out of Virginia and throughout the country each and every week. And without their ability to move these products, we would not be able to enjoy the standard of living we have. All that said, the trucking industry does not do nearly enough to ensure the safety of their workforce.
Truckers have very stressful jobs, which require them to put in long hours often during evenings and overnights. To make matters worse, they are frequently under pressure to meet unrealistic deadlines, which may force them to make a choice between staying on the road longer than they should (to keep their schedule) and stopping to get the rest that they need. Under such conditions, these drivers are more susceptible to drowsy driving, which can result in truck accidents.
What is Drowsy Driving?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes drowsy driving as “the dangerous combination of driving and sleepiness or fatigue”. This can obviously happen when someone is behind the wheel without getting enough sleep, but drowsy driving can also result from drinking alcohol or taking certain types of medications, untreated sleep disorders, and other factors.
Drowsy or fatigued driving can cause a motorist to fall asleep behind the wheel, which can obviously produce disastrous consequences. But even when a drowsy driver does not fall asleep, sleepiness or fatigue can still be dangerous, because it causes drivers to be less attentive, have slower reaction times, and generally make poorer driving decisions.
Just how bad is the problem of drowsy driving in the U.S.? The CDC says that an estimated one out of every 25 adult drivers report having fallen asleep at the wheel during the past 30 days. In addition, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that drowsy driving may be responsible for as many as 6,000 fatal accidents each year.
While anyone who does not get enough sleep may be susceptible to drowsy or fatigued driving, there are certain groups that the CDC says are more likely to drive while drowsy:
- Commercial drivers (those who operate vehicles such as semi-trucks, tow trucks, and buses);
- Shift workers (those who put in long shifts and/or work during the evening or overnight hours);
- Drivers with sleep disorders that have not been treated (such as sleep apnea);
- Drivers who use sleep-inducing medications.
Drowsy Driving in the Trucking Industry
Commercial truck drivers have a higher inherent risk of drowsy driving because of the nature of the job. One of the major reasons is that truckers typically fall into at least two of the high-risk groups, and sometimes three or four of them. As we mentioned earlier, semi-truck drivers typically drive for long hours with many of those hours after dark as they try to meet tight deadlines.
Sleep disorders are also prevalent in the trucking industry. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), nearly one third of all commercial truck drivers have mild to severe sleep apnea. Untreated sleep apnea makes it very difficult for drivers to stay awake, focus their eyes, and react appropriately when adverse road conditions arise. This puts motorists with this condition at increased risk of a fatigue-related vehicle crash.
At this point, FMCSA regulations do not specifically address sleep apnea, and drivers with mild to severe sleep apnea can still be qualified to obtain a trucking job. However, the agency does prescribe that a driver with any medical condition that may interfere with their ability to drive safely cannot be medically qualified to operate a commercial vehicle. As such, motor carriers should not permit an individual to drive a commercial truck if that driver has any untreated condition (including sleep apnea) that may inhibit their ability to safely operate the vehicle.
Injured in a Drowsy Driving Accident in Virginia? Contact an Experienced Auto Accident Attorney
Drowsy driving is the cause of thousands of serious and fatal accidents each year, and these types of accidents are more common within the trucking industry. If you or someone close to you has been injured in an accident that was caused by a drowsy or fatigued driver, you deserve to be fully compensated.
Truck accident cases can be especially complicated, because there are numerous regulations that govern the industry and multiple parties that may be at fault. For this reason, it is very important to obtain experienced legal counsel as early as possible, so your right to recover maximum compensation can be protected.
Contact the seasoned truck accident lawyers at Olmstead & Olmstead today to schedule a free consultation and case assessment. We will thoroughly analyze your case and advise you of your legal rights and options. Call us today at 703-361-1555 or message us through our web contact form. You may also visit our Manassas, VA office in person at your convenience.