When a person is tired, it can make even the most mundane tasks seem overly complicated or even impossible. When the task that person is supposed to be doing is driving, it creates a dangerous situation. Drowsy driving can cause slow reaction times, which may end up causing an accident. When tired drivers are behind the wheel of a semi-truck, their impaired decision-making and driving ability can lead to serious personal injury or death to themselves or others in the event of a crash.
Fatigue and Other Causes of Semi-Truck Accidents
In 2007, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducted a study known as the Large Truck Crash Causation Study (LTCCS). The goal of the study was to examine the reasons for serious crashes involving semi-trucks. A nationally representative sample of the 120,000 crashes that occurred between 2001 and 2003 were selected for analysis. Each crash in the LTCCS sample involved at least one large truck and one fatality or personal injury.
In total, the LTCCS sample involved 963 crashes involving 1,123 semi-trucks and 959 motor vehicles of other types, resulting in 249 fatalities and 1,654 cases of personal injury. Data was collected predominantly through sending a crash researcher and state truck inspector to each crash site as soon as possible after a crash was reported. Researchers collected crash scene data through interviews with drivers, passengers, and witnesses. The inspectors also conducted inspections of the trucks, drivers’ logbooks, and other important documentation. Up to 1,000 elements of data were collected for each crash.
Compiling all the collected data resulted in each crash being assigned two items: a critical event and a critical reason. Critical events included running out of the travel lane (either into another lane or off the road), loss of control (high speed, cargo shift, vehicle system failure, etc.), or colliding with the rear end of another vehicle in the truck’s travel lane. This data answered the question, “How did the accident occur?”
Critical reasons answered the question, “What caused the accident to occur?” In 87% of crashes studied, the cause was related to the driver and included errors in decision-making, recognition, and non-performance. 10% of crashes were due to vehicle issues, and 3% were due to environmental factors.
In the LTCCS study, fatigue accounted for approximately 18,000 crashes. In the next section, we will look deeper into causes of fatigue that typically afflict semi-truck drivers.
Causes of Semi-Truck Driver Fatigue
Driver fatigue can have many causes, but lack of adequate rest lies at the core. Not getting enough sleep, extended work hours, strenuous work or non-work activities, or some combination of all these factors can contribute to a driver feeling fatigued behind the wheel. Since they spend all day on the road, it‘s absolutely essential for truckers to get a good night‘s sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, ”People who don’t receive seven hours of daily sleep are at higher risk of being involved in a drowsy driving accident.”
This is because when a driver is not getting the proper hours of sleep and fatigue reaches a certain point, it can be considered impairment on a similar level as drunk driving. A big part of this issue involves the circadian rhythm of the truck driver and the time of day they are driving. Known as the wake/sleep cycle, the circadian rhythm refers to the time of day when people typically begin to feel drowsy. One of those times is between midnight and 6 a.m., but many truck drivers often have to drive for long hours well past midnight. This is definitely a concern for road safety, as the nature of their job often puts truck drivers and other drivers at a high risk of crashing. While federal regulations do limit the number of hours of service truck drivers can work (property carrying drivers have an 11 hour driving limit), the time of day that truckers have to drive is still a concern.
A lack of sleep can impair their decision-making and coordination, leading to crashes that risk serious injury to themselves and others. In the worst case scenario, if the truck driver is suffering from bad sleep deprivation, it could even result in falling asleep at the wheel. For such a large vehicle, this situation can result in catastrophic fatal crashes.
Regardless if you are a truck driver or just driving a passenger vehicle, it’s important to know the warning signs of driver fatigue. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the top five indicators are:
- Yawning or blinking frequently
- Difficulty remembering the past few miles driven
- Missing your exit
- Drifting from your lane
- Hitting a rumble strip
Common Injuries From Semi-Truck Collisions
Collisions between semi-trucks and passenger vehicles that are caused by tiredness often result in significant personal injury to drivers. The nature and severity of injuries incurred is dependent on a multitude of factors including the speed of the vehicle and the relative size of both vehicles involved in the accident. Common personal injuries reported after a crash include:
- Neck injuries. Whiplash is a neck injury caused by the forceful, rapid back-and-forth movement of the neck, akin to the cracking of a whip. Cervical herniated discs can also occur, wherein the discs of the upper spine are compressed or otherwise impacted from the trauma of the accident.
- Spinal cord and back injuries. Much like neck injuries, the sudden back and forth impact of a collision can cause trauma to the spinal cord and back of drivers and passengers. The deployment of airbags can further impact the severity of these injuries.
- Broken bones. A number of locations on the body can be impacted with serious force due to a collision, causing bones to break. The risk of breaking a bone increases in incidents where the rear-ended vehicle is thrust into another vehicle or object.
- Chest injuries. When a person’s seatbelt is not properly secured during a collision, it can result in compression and trauma to the ribcage, sternum, and general chest region.
- Internal organ damage. Sometimes referred to as “seat belt syndrome,” collision victims can suffer internal organ damage due to the force of compression from the seat belt around the abdomen area of the driver or passengers.
In many instances, more than one type of personal injury is incurred by a driver and any passengers that become the victim of a crash with a fatigued driver. In order for accident victims and their personal injury attorney to be successful in litigation, it must be evident that the tired driver was behaving in a negligent manner. The role of negligence and how personal injury attorneys prove negligence will be covered in the following section.
Proving Negligence in Personal Injury Litigation
When a driver suffers personal injury as a result of a collision due to a semi-truck driver’s fatigue, they are likely going to want to understand their options for pursuing legal action in order to recover compensation for any damages incurred as a result of the accident.
To successfully recover compensation, a plaintiff and their legal team must be able to prove to the courts that the fatigued driver was acting in a negligent manner in the events leading to the accident. For example, if the driver was seen looking visibly fatigued on a rear-facing dashboard camera in the moments before the collision, this can be considered strong evidence that fatigued driving and subsequent maneuvering was the primary cause of the accident and subsequent injuries.
Illinois state law uses a doctrine of fault determination known as “modified comparative negligence.” Under this system, an injured party can only recover damages if they are less than 50% responsible for the events that ultimately lead to the accident and subsequent incursion of personal injury. If they are deemed by the court to be 50% or more at fault for the accident, then they will automatically forfeit their ability to recover compensation from the defendant for any expenses related to the incident.
Types of Compensation Available to Victims of Trucking Accidents
There are many different types of compensation that may be available to victims of accidents involving semi-trucks. Some of the most common types of compensation include:
- Medical expenses: You may be able to recover compensation for your medical expenses, including hospitalization, surgery, rehabilitation, and medication.
- Lost wages: If you are unable to work because of your injuries, you may be able to recover compensation for your lost wages.
- Pain and suffering: You may be able to recover compensation for the physical pain and emotional suffering that you have endured as a result of the accident.
- Property damage: If your vehicle was damaged in the accident, you may be able to recover compensation for the repairs.
The amount of compensation that you may be eligible to receive will depend on many factors, including the severity of your injuries and the extent of your damages. An experienced personal injury attorney can help you understand the types of compensation that may be available to you and fight for the full amount of damages that you deserve.
Getting Professional Legal Counsel in Oak Brook
When someone is involved in an accident with a semi-truck, it can be a traumatic and disorienting experience. Pursuing damages can be next to impossible without the support of experienced local personal injury attorneys.
For years, the attorneys at Palermo Law Group have been helping accident victims in Oak Brook and throughout Chicagoland as they navigate the process of recovering compensation for injuries incurred due to another driver’s negligence. Contact Palermo Law Group today for insight into your case.