A study of truck crashes conducted by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board found that 31% of fatal-to-the-driver commercial truck crashes were caused by driver fatigue. That problem is worldwide.
New studies in Canada, Australia and South Africa report a significant percentage of long-haul truck drivers average 4 hours sleep our of 24. (13% in Canada, 1/3 in South Africa). It is widely accepted that both fatigue and sleep deprivation are major contributors to truck accidents. A study published in the South African Journal of Science reports that falling asleep at the wheel contributed to a quarter or more road accidents involving heavy vehicles. Truckers reported working well in excess of the lawful hours which were poorly enforced. These restrictions cannot be enforced and drivers are under pressure to supplement their income and to meet company expectations.
For those drivers who do manage to get some sleep in their truck, the South African study reported that their sleep was interrupted mostly by noise as well as light, outside activity and extremes of heat or cold. Nearly 80% of drivers surveyed complained of interrupted sleep; in this case poor sleep is associated with up to 62% of incidents where drivers nodded off at the wheel, increasing the risk of causing a road accident. Sleep apnea and other sleep disorders were associated with two-fold increase in sleep-related road accidents compared with drivers without sleep disorders. Drivers who snore or show signs indicative of sleep apnoea are also more likely to be overweight. Obese drivers who snore or experience excessive daytime sleepiness fall asleep at the wheel more often and are twice as likely to have an accident compared to those who do not snore. Almost all the drivers interviewed stated that they started driving between 1 am and 8 am, a period when melatonin levels are high and the stimulus for sleep is also high.
A Canadian study of truckers’ sleep patterns reported that drivers slept an average of only 4.78 hours–2 or more hours less than their reported ideal amount of sleep. Schedules had a “significant effect” on how long drivers slept in a given period. On average, daytime drivers slept for longer periods than night drivers (5.38 hours vs. 3.83 hours). The average 4.78 hours of sleep from the study was “much shorter than most standards.” Sleep research shows the chances of falling asleep during normal waking hours increase if a person sleeps less than six hours and has “successive days” of too little sleep. Not enough sleep leads to more errors and inattentiveness and diminished psychomotor skills. Research also shows that “night driving after relatively little sleep is a better predictor of fatigue-related accidents than is night driving alone.”
The South African and Canadian studies is consistent with what we see here too often. A couple of weeks I took a deposition of a truck driver in Ohio who wound up admitting that he had gotten only 4 hours sleep in the last 24, that he had grossly violated the hours of service regulations, that his logs were completely falsified, etc. He stopped just short of admitting that he was asleep on cruise control when he ran over a family in Georgia and killed their kid. More often the truck drivers deny everything, even if their logs cannot be found and they “can’t remember” if they had stopped for rest.
And it’s not just innocent travelers on the road who are hurt. Frequently I see news reports of truck drivers who were killed when they inexplicably ran off the highway and crashed in the early morning hours.
The Shigley Law Firm represents plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic injury cases statewide in Georgia, and in other states subject to the multijurisdictional practice and pro hac vice rules in each state. Ken Shigley was designated as a “SuperLawyer” in Atlanta Magazine and one of the “Legal Elite” in Georgia Trend Magazine. He is a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, Chair of the Southeastern Motor Carrier Liability Institute and former chair of the Georgia Insurance Law Institute. He particularly focuses on cases arising from truck wrecks and accidents (tractor trailers truck wrecks, semi truck wrecks,18 wheeler truck wrecks, big rig truck wrecks, log truck wrecks, dump truck wrecks).