How Many Truck Accidents Are Caused by Fatigue?

It’s easy to see why fatigued driving is a major problem in the trucking industry.  Truckers drive long hours, sometimes exceeding the shift limits imposed by federal safety regulations, down monotonous, repetitive stretches of road.  Not only does this endanger the truckers themselves, it also poses a major hazard for everyone else who shares the road with these massive vehicles.  Salt Lake City truck accident lawyer Darwin Overson investigates the scope of this pervasive problem, which was blamed for the crash that injured “30 Rock” comedian Tracy Morgan in 2014.

Study Suggests Carriers Pressure Truckers to Violate Shift Limits, Break Safety Regulations

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With its vast, rural stretches of highway, Utah is a perfect environment for exhausted truckers to slip into a state of “highway hypnosis,” or even fall asleep at the wheel.  The dazzling natural beauty of sights like Provo Canyon or Monument Valley, which might awe a well-rested driver, fade into a murky haze when a driver has been awake for 15, 20, or 25 hours in a row.  Unfortunately, so do traffic signs, other vehicles, and even the very mental processes that are needed to operate a vehicle safely.

You’ve probably experienced the effects of sleep deprivation yourself.  Just think back to the last time you went to work on a few hours of sleep – the lapses in attention, the sluggish mental and physical reactions, the struggle to concentrate on simple tasks – and you get the idea of how fatigue affects a person’s ability to function normally.  Now pretend that, instead of being in an office or a store, you’re all alone behind the wheel of a vehicle that weighs tens of thousands of pounds, barreling down I-15 at speeds of 60, 70, 80 MPH.  It’s not hard to understand why this can lead to a devastating accident, with potentially fatal consequences.

Of course, fatigue is not exclusive to commercial drivers.  People across all occupations have, unfortunately, engaged in drowsy driving at one time or another.  However, fatigued driving poses a special danger with regard to the trucking industry, because the sheer amount of time truckers spend on the road increases the opportunities for fatigue to creep in.

This is especially true when, in an effort to complete journeys as quickly as possible, drivers decide to violate the “Hours of Service” (HOS) mandated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).  Even though the HOS restrict shifts to certain durations, many truck drivers are pressured by their employers to violate these or other rules – which are in place to protect safety.

According to a study jointly conducted by the FMCSA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), called the Large Truck Crash Causation Study (LTCCS), the drivers of an estimated 16,000 vehicles said they “felt under work pressure from [the] carrier.”  The same study estimated that 18,000 vehicles in accidents (out of “141,000 large trucks estimated to have been involved in fatal and injury crashes during the study period”) had driver fatigue as a factor.  The study assessed the “relative risk” of fatigue to be 8.0 – more than the relative risk of unfamiliarity with the road (2.0), alcohol use (5.3), driving too fast for conditions (7.7), and external or internal distractions (5.1 and 5.8, respectively).

Statistics on Utah Truck Accidents Caused by Drowsy Driving and Fatigue

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Federal agencies have established that fatigue is responsible for, or at least contributes to, a significant number of commercial truck accidents – even if exact figures have not been determined.  (According to the LTCCS, “It is known that many drivers drive while fatigued, but accurate estimates are not available.”)

However, even if “estimates are not available” at the national level, Utah has more than just estimates – it has facts, thanks to a 2014 report on drowsy driving compiled by the Department of Public Safety.  As of October 2016, the 2014 report is the most recent drowsy driving report available.

According to the report, 1,041 out of the 54,036 car accidents and other auto accidents reported in Utah that year were attributed to driver fatigue: just under 2% (a slight increase from 2013).  About 2.3% of accident-related fatalities were attributed to drowsy driving (six out of 256), which was a factor in about 2.7% of fatal crashes (six out of 222).  The highest number of fatal drowsy driving crashes occurred in Salt Lake County (58), followed by Utah County (20).

The report also analyzed fatigued driving accidents by type of vehicle, which allows us to see exactly how many heavy trucks (as opposed to pickup trucks) were involved, as well as the outcomes of these crashes.  According to the report:

  • 19 drowsy heavy truck drivers caused accidents resulting in property damage only (out of 2,569, or 0.7%).
  • 19 drowsy heavy truck drivers caused accidents resulting in injury (out of 687, or 2.8%).
  • No drowsy heavy truck drivers caused fatal accidents, a surprising but welcome finding.

All in all, 38 out of the 3,278 heavy truck drivers who were involved in accidents were found to be fatigued at the time of the crash (about 1.2%).  This percentage was slightly higher than the percentage of drowsy passenger car, SUV, and pickup truck drivers, and significantly higher than the percentage of drowsy motorcyclists and bus drivers.  A bus accident or motorcycle accident in Utah caused by drowsy driving is possible, but less likely to occur.

Contact a Salt Lake City Truck Accident Attorney to Review Your Personal Injury Claim

Truckers and carriers should be held responsible when their policies or actions cause a drowsy driving accident that injures or kills someone.  Anyone who causes a fatal crash or injury accident by driving while fatigued, or falling asleep at the wheel, should be held accountable for the consequences of their actions.

If you were injured in a truck accident caused by drowsy driving, or if a loved one was wrongfully killed by a trucker who was tired or who fell asleep at the wheel, you may be able to recover compensation with help from an experienced Salt Lake City wrongful death lawyer.  To arrange a free and confidential legal consultation, call the law offices of Overson Law at (801) 895-3143.


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