What You Need to Know About Drowsy Truck Driving and Collisions
By Adam J. Langino, Esq.
NHTSA estimates that in 2017, 91,000 police-reported crashes involved drowsy drivers. These crashes led to an estimated 50,000 people injured and nearly 800 deaths. But there is broad agreement across the traffic safety, sleep science, and public health communities that this underestimates the impact of drowsy driving.[i]
NHTSA also reports that three factors are most typically associated with drowsy-driving crashes/ First, many occur between midnight and 6:00 AM or late in the afternoon. Second, drowsy-driving crashes often only involve a single driver (and no passengers) running off the roadway at high speed. Third, drowsy driving accidents frequently happen on highways or rural roads.[ii]
Tips for Truck Drivers to Stay Safe
A U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (U.S. DOT’s FMCSA) reported that 13 percent of commercial vehicle drivers were considered fatigued at the time of their crash.[iii] A different FMCSA study found that driver alertness was more related to the time of the day than the amount of time on the job.[iv] Another FMCSA study found that truck crashes are highest during the truck driver’s first hour of driving.[v]
The U.S. FMSCA provides some tips for truck drivers to help them combat driver fatigue.
First, the FMSCA suggests that truck drivers get an adequate amount of sleep each night and don’t drive while their body is naturally drowsy, between the hours of 12:00 AM and 6:00 AM and 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM.[vi]
Second, the FMSCA recommends that truck drivers maintain a healthy diet. According to the FMSCA, skipping meals or eating at irregular times may lead to driver fatigue.[vii]
Third, the FMSCA suggests that truck drivers take a nap when feeling drowsy or less alert. The FMSCA says naps should last at least 10 minutes, but it is best if they are at least 45 minutes. It also suggests that truck drivers should wait 15 minutes after a nap to return to driving.[viii]
Fourth, the FMSCA says that truck drivers should avoid medications that induce drowsiness. A study found that 17 percent of truck drivers were found to have used over-the-counter medication before the crash.[ix] The FMCSA says truck drivers should suffer through their cold than drive under the effects of cold medication.[x]
Fifth, the FMSCA encourages truck drivers to pay attention to the indicators of drowsy driving. Frequent yawns, heavy eyes, or blurred vision indicate drowsiness.[xi] Being awake for 18 hours is comparable to having a blood alcohol level of .08 percent, which is the threshold for legal intoxication in many states.[xii] Three of every four truck drivers report having experienced at least one type of driving error due to drowsiness.[xiii]
Finally, the FMCSA warns truck drivers that “alertness tricks” are not natural cures for driving drowsy.[xiv] For example, the FMCSA says that even coffee can provide a false sense of security because it may not take effect as quickly as you expect, and the effects may be minimal for regular caffeine users. [xv]
The Rules to Help Keep Truck Drivers Safe
Due to the concerns of truck drivers driving drowsy, the U.S. Federal Government has strict rules that dictate how long truck drivers can stay behind the wheel before getting sleep. In the industry, these are called “Hours of Service Regulations.” The regulations apply differently depending on the type of cargo a truck driver is hauling.[xvi]
Truck drivers hauling property have a maximum of 11 hours of driving after ten consecutive hours of being off duty.[xvii] Drivers may not go beyond the 14th straight hour after coming on duty, following ten consecutive hours off duty, and off-duty time does not extend the 14 hours.[xviii] Drivers must take a 30-minute break when they have driven for 8 cumulative hours without at least a 30-minute interruption.[xix] Truck drivers may not drive after 60 or 70 hours on duty in seven or eight consecutive days.[xx] A driver may start driving again after taking 34 or more consecutive hours off duty.[xxi]
Drivers can split their ten-hour off-duty period if one of the breaks is at least two hours long and the other one involves at least 7 hours consecutive hours spent in the sleeper berth.[xxii] A sleeper berth is found in some trucks that allow the trucker to sleep in their vehicle.[xxiii] Further, truck drivers are permitted to exceed their maximum driving limit of up to two hours when adverse driving conditions are encountered.[xxiv] Finally, for short hauls, there are exemptions to the safety rules if the driver operates within a 150-mile radius of their normal work location and does not exceed a maximum duty period of 14 hours.[xxv]
As you can see, the rules regulating truck drivers’ service hours are a little complicated. The takeaway is that the U.S. Federal Government has serious concerns about drowsy driving, particularly among truck drivers. Truck drivers must keep a log of their hours of service so that their records can be examined after a collision to see if drowsy driving was a factor in the crash.
I am sorry if you are reading this because you or someone you love has been injured in a trucking collision. I hope that you find the above helpful to you. As you can see, crashes involving trucks have different considerations than those involving other motor vehicles. That is why it is critical to retain an experienced lawyer to help you navigate these types of claims. Over my career, I have handled many truck collision claims, and I am licensed to practice law in Florida and North Carolina and co-counsel claims in other states. If you would like to learn more about me or my practice, click here. If you want to request a free consultation, click here. As always, stay safe and stay well.
[i] “Drowsy Driving.” NHTSA, https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/drowsy-driving.
[iii] U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. (2007).The Large Truck Crash Causation Study. (Publication No. FMCSA-RRA-07-017). (Table 2). Washington, D.C. Retrieved May 21, 2008, from: http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/safety/research-and-analysis/large-truck-crash-causation-study-analysis-brief
[iv] U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. (1996). Commercial Motor Vehicle/Driver Fatigue and Alertness Study. Available at: http://ntl.bts.gov/lib/jpodocs/repts_te/1623.pdf
[v] Hanowski, R.J., Olson, R.L., Bocanegra, J., and Hickman, J.S. (2007). "Analysis of Risk as a Function of Driving-Hour: Assessment of Driving Hours 1 Through 11" Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.
[vi] “CMV Driving Tips - Driver Fatigue.” FMCSA, 11 Feb. 2015, https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/safety/driver-safety/cmv-driving-tips-driver-fatigue.
[vii] Risk Management, WorkSafeBC. (2005, December). Fatigue Survey of BC Truck Drivers. Retrieved June 24, 2008, from: http://www2.worksafebc.com/pdfs/forestry/truck_driver_fatigue_survey_final.pdf
[viii] CMV Driving Tips - Driver Fatigue.” FMCSA, 11 Feb. 2015, https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/safety/driver-safety/cmv-driving-tips-driver-fatigue.
[ix] U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. (2007).The Large Truck Crash Causation Study. (Publication No. FMCSA-RRA-07-017). (Table 2). Washington, D.C. Retrieved May 21, 2008, from: http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/safety/research-and-analysis/large-truck-crash-causation-study-analysis-brief
[x] CMV Driving Tips - Driver Fatigue.” FMCSA, 11 Feb. 2015, https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/safety/driver-safety/cmv-driving-tips-driver-fatigue.
[xii] National Sleep Foundation; Drowsy Driving.org. (2007). Drive Alert. Arrive Alive. Retrieved May 30, 2008, from: http://www.drowsydriving.org.
[xiii]Redelmeier DA, Tibshirani RJ. Association between cellular-telephone calls and motor vehicle collisions. N Engl J Med 1997;336:453-8.
[xiv] CMV Driving Tips - Driver Fatigue.” FMCSA, 11 Feb. 2015, https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/safety/driver-safety/cmv-driving-tips-driver-fatigue.
[xvi] “Summary of Hours of Service Regulations.” FMCSA, 8 Mar. 2022, https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/regulations/hours-service/summary-hours-service-regulations.