FMCSA Addresses the Indirect Effects of Fatigue
Drowsy truck drivers cause about a third of the truck wrecks in Texas. A bold new initiative seeks to destroy the roots of this problem.
“The first priority we have is to go upstream in the safety life cycle all the way to prevention,” FMCSA Administrator Robin Hutcheson said during the Midwest Commercial Vehicle Safety Summit in Kansas City, Mo. “That means we have to look at some root causes of why people become unsafe in the first place. The crash that never happens – that’s what we want.” Hutcheson added that the way truck drivers are compensated and the lack of safe places to park are among the root causes the agency needs to analyze.
“We have to dig pretty deep, and that means looking at compensation – how drivers are compensated,” Hutcheson said. “The effect of detention time – are drivers waiting too long and therefore speeding to their next location? … Why are women not joining the workforce? Do they not feel safe and secure? Are there predatory leasing arrangements that are distracting to drivers, making them unable to focus on the roadway? We know the answer is yes … Are truck drivers tired? Do they need more rest? Are they having trouble finding places to park? These are all root causes of why a driver may become unsafe in the first place.”
Drowsiness and Negligence
Compensation issues contribute to fatigued driving because drivers push the envelope to deliver their loads on time. Parking issues contribute to fatigued driving wrecks because drivers can’t find safe places to pull over and rest.
Excessive fatigue clouds judgment and adversely affects motor skills, a combination that makes operating a motor vehicle, especially an 80,000-pound large truck, very dangerous.
Fatigue impairment symptoms mimic alcohol impairment symptoms. Drowsiness and alcohol have roughly the same effect on the body and brain. Driving after eighteen consecutive awake hours is like driving with a .05 BAC level. That’s above the legal limit for commercial operators in Texas.
The alcohol comparison makes it easier for a Sugar Land jackknife accident lawyer to establish negligence in these cases. Texas has very few laws addressing truck driver fatigue, and the FMCSA, despite its new emphasis on this topic, has watered down many HOS (hours of service) rules over the past three years. Furthermore, unless they’re asleep at the wheel, many jurors simply don’t believe fatigued drivers are negligent.
Fatigue sometimes overlaps with other kinds of driver impairment, such as drug use. Most truckers admit they use amphetamines to stay awake. These drugs help users feel more alert. But they don’t address the underlying effects of fatigue. Furthermore, these users crash hard, fast, and unpredictably when these drugs wear off.
Fatigued driving rarely violates state law. Many local law enforcement agencies don’t even have a code for a fatigue-related collision. Even if the drowsy tortfeasor (negligent driver) broke a safety law, emergency responders rarely issue citations in these cases.
So, a Missouri City personal injury lawyer typically uses circumstantial evidence to prove ordinary negligence. This evidence includes:
- Erratic driving prior to the crash,
- Medical records that show the tortfeasor has sleep apnea, which is a common condition among truck drivers who sit most of the day,
- ELD (Electronic Logging Device) data that conclusively shows the amount of time the tortfeasor was behind the wheel, and
- Tortfeasor’s statements about fatigue or drowsiness.
The burden of proof in a negligence case is very low, as mentioned above. Therefore, a little evidence of drowsiness goes a long way.
The higher duty of care comes into play as well. Commercial drivers in Texas have a duty to proactively avoid accidents. Fatigued drivers simply cannot fulfill this duty. In other words, the bigger they are (the higher the duty), the harder they fall.
Even if they’re owner-operators or independent contractors for financial purposes, truck drivers are usually employees for negligence purposes. As a result, the shipping, transportation, or other company that owned the cargo or leased the truck to the driver is financially responsible for damages in most cases.
Count on a Detail-Oriented Harris County Attorney
Injury victims are entitled to significant compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Missouri City, contact the Henrietta Ezeoke Law Firm. Attorneys can connect victims with doctors, even if they have no insurance or money.