The Problem of Truck Driver Fatigue in Phoenix

by Doug Zanes | Last Updated: November 23, 2021

Commercial truck driving is about far more than just getting behind a wheel and driving. It is about getting much-needed cargo to its destination on time. Customers waiting for the cargo will be upset if it is late.

This places pressure on the truck driver to get there in time. However, the truck driver cannot control many things about the journey. The result may be that the truck driver feels forced to drive long shifts to make it there in time. This results in fatigued truck drivers who are a danger to every other driver on the road.

Studies have found varying numbers when it comes to the percentage of truck accidents caused by driver fatigue. There is a very wide range of results in these research surveys in terms of the proportion of truck accidents resulting from fatigue.

One of the more comprehensive research studies found that fatigue was a factor in 13 percent of truck accidents. However, this may understate the scope of the problem because these studies only pick up accidents where investigators found evidence of fatigue. Tired drivers can be a contributing factor in far more accidents.

Fatigue Comes From Lack of Sleep and Poor Habits

While fatigue results from a lack of sleep, this is not the only cause. Fatigue can also happen when one does something for too long without the proper amount of rest. Breaks can also just mean some downtime to recharge and stay alert. Even health and eating habits can cause drivers to feel more refreshed and alert. Reliance on caffeine and poor diet can also cause driver fatigue when a driver might be using coffee and snacks to try to stay alert.

Most people do not truly understand the dangers of fatigued driving. They read and hear about drunk driving, which is certainly a menace to the general public. There are strict laws against drunk drivers. However, while there are truck driving regulations to curb the overworking of truck drivers, there are no specific laws against fatigued driving, even though the danger can be every bit as great.

What’s more, Phoenix’s blazing heat can make people groggy, so local truck drivers need to sleep even more than those from other regions.

Fatigued Driving Is Every Bit as Bad as Drunk Driving

Studies show exactly how dangerous fatigued driving is. In Arizona, the legal limit for blood alcohol content is 0.08. Above that, one is driving drunk. What you may not know is that driving without having slept for 20 hours has the same effect on a motorist as driving with a BAC over the legal limit. If the time without sleep is 24 hours, it is equivalent to driving with a 0.10 BAC.

This is not to say that simply going without sleep is all that can make a driver fatigued. Not taking breaks at regular intervals or even not having proper eating habits behind the wheel can also contribute to driver fatigue. Truck drivers need to take good care of themselves physically to be at their sharpest. Even under the best circumstances, trucks are difficult to operate, and they require a driver’s full concentration.

The Effects of Fatigued Driving

The first effect of fatigue is a decline in task performance. As far as driving is concerned, fatigued drivers are far worse and more dangerous than rested ones. Their coordination decreases, and they might not properly process information. The longer one has been doing something, the less sharp they are.

Fatigued driving can have some of the following effects on truck drivers:

  • They are more likely to fall asleep behind the wheel
  • Their reflexes slow down when they need to do things like making sudden stops
  • It is more difficult to keep control of their large truck
  • They might not spot prompts and challenges

For example, it takes a lot of time to stop a fully loaded semi-truck traveling at highway speeds. It can take as much as 400 feet to bring the truck to a complete stop. This means that split seconds matter. When the margin between a complete stop and a fatal rear-end crash comes down to feet, drivers need to begin braking at the first possible opportunity. When their reflexes slow due to fatigue, they may miss the window to brake and avoid an accident.

Federal Rules Require that Truck Drivers Take Rests

With their delivery pressures, truck drivers may cut corners on taking care of themselves and try to push through behind the wheel. Federal regulations aim to prevent some of these dangers. While the rules cannot mandate driver health, they do give maximum time windows and mandate rest breaks for drivers.

Here are some of the requirements of federal truck driving regulations:

  • After ten hours off-duty, an operator can drive for no more than 11 hours
  • They must drive these 11 hours within a 14-hour timespan. After that, the driver must rest again.
  • Operators cannot drive for more than eight hours straight without at least a 30-minute break
  • Drivers cannot be on duty for more than 60 hours in seven days or 70 hours in eight days.
  • There is an exception to these rules when a driver operates the truck within a 150-mile radius of their home base.

The federal government enforces these rules through inspections. Agencies can issue fines and take other enforcement actions when drivers or companies violate these rules. However, that does not help an injured driver or their family when they suffer harm due to a fatigued truck driver. This is where we come in at Zanes Law Injury Lawyers.

Truck Drivers May Travel Often at Night

One of the effects of the federal regulations is that truck drivers may try to travel as much as they can when there is less traffic. This is why you see more trucks on the road in the middle of the night. Truck drivers do not get extra time because they get stuck in traffic during the day. The operators may not sleep enough during the day, and driving late at night can cause fatigue. Many fatigued truck driving accidents happen later at night because truck drivers do not have the reflexes and perception necessary to handle the more challenging conditions.

The driver’s rest and alertness can become an issue in your truck accident claim. Your attorney will need to gather evidence that can show that the driver was fatigued. Although things like illegal turns and rear-ending cars can be evidence of negligence on their own, it helps your case to prove driver fatigue itself, especially when liability is a closer call.

Police investigations will not necessarily spot driver fatigue as an issue in your crash. Law enforcement officers may not have specific training to notice this issue, and they may not even inquire about fatigue at the scene of the accident.

How a Truck Accident Lawyer Can Help Your Case

Here is what your truck accident lawyer may do to help prove your case:

  • Obtain the black box data from the truck that can show the hours it was in operation
  • Subpoena medical information about the truck driver that can show why they had fatigue
  • Access the truck driver’s history and employment file
  • Speak to witnesses who saw the crash to find out what led to the accident
  • Work with expert witnesses to help recreate your crash

You Need an Experienced Truck Accident Investigator

Truck accidents take more investigative work than other car accidents, especially when you are dealing with cases caused by fatigue. Most trucks now have black boxes that have key data metrics about the truck, including its speed and any measures the driver may have taken to avoid the crash. The black box can provide a roadmap to your truck accident claim because it has much of the data that you need to prove your case.

There is a big “however” at play here when it comes to black box data. You must move quickly to obtain it. Trucking companies do not have an unlimited obligation to keep this data. After a certain time, they can reuse the black box and overwrite the data. Further, while it is illegal, they might immediately erase the black box data after a crash.

Either way, a lawyer should move quickly to direct the trucking company to maintain this data. You will need it if your case goes to trial because of all the help that it can give you.

Trucking Companies Are Liable for Their Fatigued Drivers

In any case, where the truck driver is an employee of a trucking company, their employer will be liable if the operator was negligent. Even though trucking companies have everything to lose in terms of liability, they may often put their short-term concerns of on-time delivery first and pressure drivers to arrive on time.

This is short-sighted because the company should also pay for an accident that its driver causes. There are even numerous stories of trucking companies that have gone out of business because juries ordered them to pay far more money than they had in insurance coverage.

When a truck driver is driving while fatigued, it can be a sign of far worse things at the trucking company. There are black boxes that record data and records that companies and drivers must retain. This can be part of a pattern at the trucking company, where its drivers routinely ignore federal regulations to make on-time deliveries. If your lawyer uncovers that pattern as part of their investigation, and there is a deliberate scheme to evade the laws and cover up violations, you may seek punitive damages.

Insurance Companies Will Try to Shortchange You on Your Settlement Offer

Trucking companies’ insurance companies have business practices that they have been using since the very beginning of their existence. They will do everything that they can to deny your claim in its entirety, throwing up every roadblock that they can to keep you from getting your money.

Even if they accept liability for the claim, getting the right amount of money from them will be extremely difficult. Their settlement offers will be laughably low, trying to get you to accept less than you deserve, so they can keep more of the premiums that they received invested in the stock market. Many people will not even know that they are receiving an offer that is far less than they deserve.

A truck accident settlement is actually a complex and lengthy negotiation. This is how the insurance companies make it, so you may take less money than you deserve. They rely on their superior knowledge and the infrastructure that they have built to get you to submit.

Their plans all go out the window when you come to the table with us as your attorney. We will put a stop to the games that insurance companies play by speaking up on your behalf. We will advise you to reject settlement offers that are far too low and counter with a demand that reflects what you deserve. If you are still getting nowhere with the insurance company, we will file a lawsuit on your behalf. In some cases, we may even go straight to court with your case to show the defendant that we mean business.

Phoenix Fatigued Truck Driver Accident Lawyers

If you or a loved one suffered injuries in a truck accident, you can count on Zanes Law Injury Lawyers to be a stalwart in your corner. We have a long track record of fighting for our injured clients to recover every penny that they legally deserve. Insurance companies take us seriously because they know that we are tough litigators that they do not want to face.

Do not let money concerns keep you from getting the legal help that you need. We will not ask you for a retainer payment upfront, nor will we send you bills throughout your case. You will not even get a bill at all. Instead, you only pay us from the proceeds of your settlement or jury award, should you receive one.

Doug Zanes: Founding Attorney Raised in Douglas, Arizona, and went to college at Arizona State University and graduated from law school at St. Mary’s University School of Law in Texas. Doug began practicing law in Phoenix Arizona in 1997.
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