Fatigued or Drowsy Driving in Trucking Accidents

Trucking accidents are motor vehicle crashes involving large trucks and commercial vehicles, such as an eighteen-wheelers and tractor trailers.  With commercial vehicles weighing upwards of 75,000 pounds and traveling at high speeds, it is not hard to understand why these types of accidents are usually the most serious and deadly in not only Massachusetts, but across the United States.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported in 2014 that there were approximately 4,000 fatalities and over 110,000 people seriously injured in trucking accidents. While there are a number of different causes of trucking accidents, many trucking accident experts believe that driver fatigue or drowsy driving is one of the top contributors and safety issues in the commercial trucking industry. If you have been seriously injured in an accident involving a large commercial truck and can establish that the truck driver was fatigued or drowsy, you should be able to obtain the financial compensation you deserve for your injuries and losses.

Overview of Driver Fatigue or Drowsy Driving

Driver fatigue or drowsy driving is when an operator of a motor vehicle is too tired to safely drive a vehicle. Being fatigued or drowsy at the wheel has been shown to impair a driver’s ability to safely operate his or her vehicle. Some of the most common causes of drowsy driving include:

  • Insufficient or interrupted sleep;
  • Driving for too long without sufficient rest;
  • Certain sleep disorders, such as insomnia or narcolepsy;
  • Use of medications or sedatives, including sleep aids before or while driving;
  • Alcohol consumption or drug use, including marijuana;

A driver does not necessarily have to fall asleep to be considered driving fatigued or drowsy. Drowsy driving will affect people in many different ways. Most fatigued drivers, however, will typically have slower reaction times, and be inattentive at the wheel. Experts have compared fatigued driving to drunk driving. Both alcohol intoxication and fatigue contribute to a diminished capacity to properly and carefully drive a car or truck. While we may not hear about driver fatigue as much as we hear about drunk driving, drowsy driving is a widespread issue in Massachusetts and across the United States. In the commercial trucking industry, some experts believe that driver fatigue is one of the greatest safety concerns.

Fatigued or Drowsy Driving and Trucking Accidents

Commercial truck driver fatigue is a major safety problem on our highways and roadways for obvious reasons. A drowsy truck driver behind the wheel of a large tractor trailer or eighteen-wheeler weighing upwards of 80,000 lbs is a serious hazard and concern for drivers and passengers of other vehicles. A regular passenger car does not stand a chance against these enormous commercial trucks. This is why trucking accidents are generally responsible for the most serious injuries and many fatalities.

Our office has represented many Massachusetts residents injured in trucking accidents and have personally seen the damage they can inflict. For example, a client of ours suffered a severe facial laceration from a trucking accident on I-93 in Boston, Massachusetts. Another client of ours was seriously injured when rear-ended by an inattentive driver of a trailer truck on I-290 in Auburn, Massachusetts.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that nearly 40% of accidents involving large commercial trucks may be the result of driver fatigue. Drowsy driving is sometimes overlooked or mistaken for other causes. Some trucking accidents may be reported to have been caused by distracted driving or drunk driving when the actual cause of an accident was driver fatigue. Despite the reported cause for the accident, thorough investigation must be conducted to determine whether the truck driver was drowsy or fatigued.

About Personal Injury Cases From a Trucking Accident

The terms “motor vehicle accident” is generally an umbrella category that covers any type of accident involving a motor vehicle. This would include large commercial trucks. Experienced personal injury attorneys, however, know that accidents involving large trucks are different. They are not your standard personal injury case from a motor vehicle accident only involving a commercial truck. They are different because there are many specific state and federal statutes and regulations that govern the safe operation of heavy commercial vehicles.

Just like other motor vehicle accidents, in Massachusetts an accident victim has the legal right to seek financial compensation for the injuries they suffered in the trucking accident and for other losses they incurred (e.g., medical bills, lost wages or lost earning capacity). But, these types of accidents commonly involve many complex legal issues and are aggressively scrutinized and defended by commercial trucking insurance companies. If you have been seriously injured in a trucking accident, you should hire an experienced Massachusetts personal injury attorney who is familiar with trucking accident cases.

Commercial trucking insurance policies typically have much higher limits for bodily injury than regular passenger vehicles.  This is due to the sheer size of the trucks, number of miles driven yearly, and the often-severe injuries (and sometimes death) people suffer when involved in an accident with a tractor trailer. The insurance companies vigorously defend trucking accident cases because of the severity of injuries suffered in these accidents and the potential for significantly high verdicts. The trucking companies are known to take action well before an accident victim has secured an experienced attorney to represent him or her or even considered hiring a lawyer. This can give the trucking companies and their insurers a significant advantage in an injury claim or lawsuit. For these reasons, anyone injured in a trucking accident should have a personal injury attorney on their side to aggressively prosecute their injury claim or lawsuit and take on the big insurance companies and their defense attorneys.

Experienced Lawyers Know How to Handle Truck Accidents Involving Driver Fatigue

Attorneys experienced with trucking accident cases are aware of the many state and federal statutes and regulations that govern the safe operation of large commercial trucks on the highways and roadways. A thorough understanding of the federal regulations coupled with a detailed investigation into the trucking accident will almost always benefit the injured party and increase the probability of obtaining a fair and reasonable settlement or verdict.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has specific regulations that address fatigued operation of large trucks. For example, § 392.3 of Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations provides: “No driver shall operate a commercial motor vehicle, and a motor carrier shall not require or permit a driver to operate a commercial motor vehicle, while the driver's ability or alertness is so impaired, or so likely to become impaired, through fatigue…” Based upon this regulation, we routinely obtain the truck driver's medical records to examine them to see if there is any evidence of an illness or medical condition around the time of the trucking accident that may have contributed to fatigue.

Also, 49 C.F.R. § 395 sets forth specific rules and regulations for the Hours of Service (HOS) of motor carriers and drivers. This federal regulation imposes certain prohibitions on driving and requirements on commercial trucking companies. While a violation of this or other regulations may not establish negligence on the part of the truck driver or the trucking company, per se, in Massachusetts, the violation of a federal safety statute may be admissible to establish some evidence of negligence. So, determining whether a regulation was violated will provide the injured party a substantial advantage in an injury claim or lawsuit.

As you can see, there are many aspects of a trucking accident case, specifically involving driver fatigue, that must be evaluated and determined in order to successfully pursue the financial compensation anyone injured due to a fatigued or otherwise negligent truck driver. An experienced attorney can advise an accident vicitm about what must be done immeidatley following a truck accident to give them the best chance to get the money they deserve for their injuries. 

Speak With an Experienced Massachusetts Truck Accident Lawyer Today

Commercial trucking accidents often present complex legal issues. Trucking accident litigation is sophisticated, and anyone seriously injured in an accident with a commercial truck should have an experienced truck accident lawyer on their side.

Mahaney & Pappas, LLP focuses exclusively on helping Massachusetts residents and others, who have been seriously injured in accidents, including trucking accidents. We have dedicated our careers to representing accident victims recover the maximum financial compensation they deserve for their injuries, damages and losses. 

If you or someone you know has been injured in a truck accident, please contact us online or call (508) 879-3500 for a complimentary meeting to discuss your claim.