How Your Attorney Proves a Fatigued Truck Driver Caused Your Accident
Accidents involving large trucks can happen for a variety of risk factors. One common risk factor for large truck accidents is truck driver fatigue. Truckers work long, monotonous hours. They operate under tight deadlines. Even if they abide by federal or state regulations governing how much time they can spend behind the wheel, truckers drive tired more often than they should, and as a result, accidents happen.
If you were injured in an accident involving a large truck, how do you go about proving the truck driver’s fatigue caused the accident? In this blog post, we review typical causes, dangers, and signs of truck driver fatigue, and how lawyers might go about proving those facts to an insurance adjuster or a jury.
Why Do Truckers Drive While Fatigued?
Truckers, like many other professions, deal with tight deadlines and heavy pressure from the individuals they must answer to. Truckers are forbidden by federal and state regulations to drive for more than 11 consecutive hours, and those hours must follow 10 consecutive hours of time off the road. Unfortunately, truckers don’t always follow those important regulations. Failure to pull off the road when the time comes to rest can leave truckers impaired, and impaired drivers are more likely to cause accidents.
Each year, there are more than 4,000 accidents involving large trucks on Florida’s roads, many of which can be attributed to driver fatigue. Nevertheless, truckers continue to drive while fatigued for several reasons:
- They’re on tight deadlines and need to move cargo quickly.
- They’re under pressure from their employer to deliver on predetermined timelines that may not take traffic patterns, accidents, and delays into consideration.
- Many truck drivers are paid by the mile, not by the hour. This system of payment means that many truck drivers struggle with delays and accidents that prevent them from making necessary mileage and may stay on the road longer in an attempt to make up the miles.
- Sometimes, truck drivers may not realize how long they spend at rest stops, whether taking a restroom break or taking time to eat. As a result, they may find themselves driving later in an effort to make up the time they spent resting.
- Some truck companies may provide their drivers with unreasonable deadlines, which makes them more prone to stretch the hours they’re spending on the road. In this case, the trucking company may bear partial responsibility for the driver’s decision to drive while drowsy.
- Too many hours on the road without a break can increase driver fatigue, even when they’re within the legal limits. Truckers need to take regular breaks to shift their focus and concentration and make it easier for them to continue down the road with their load.
Truckers are also more likely than many other professions to have substance abuse problems, which can increase their odds of drowsy driving. Worldwide, 50 percent of truckers admit to drinking and driving, while 30 percent admit to using amphetamines while behind the wheel. In Florida, 40 persons died and hundreds more suffered injuries in truck accidents in 2016. Drug and alcohol impairment almost certainly played roles in many of them.
Truckers may also find themselves dealing with sleep disorders or struggling to sleep well when they’re away from home, which can lead to increased instances of driving fatigued. In many cases, truckers may not even realize their level of fatigue or recognize that they have spent too long behind the wheel until an accident has already occurred—and by then, it’s too late to prevent the damage.
What Are the Dangers of Driving While Fatigued?
Fatigued driving leads to significant difficulty paying attention behind the wheel. Most people have had at least one scare where their eyes began to drift closed and they jerked awake to realize that their car wasn’t where they intended for it to be. This is dangerous enough in a passenger vehicle. For truckers, however, the dangers are significantly increased. These dangers may include:
- Difficulty properly controlling the truck
- Falling asleep behind the wheel, leaving the truck out of control
- Swerving or driving erratically
- Failing to pay attention to or to notice other vehicles on the road
Consulting the Truck Driver’s Hours
After an accident involving a large truck, experienced lawyers who suspect driver fatigue as a cause will consult the truck driver’s recorded hours of service. If the driver had been on the road for more hours than the legal limit at the time of the crash, that can be a strong indicator that fatigue played a role in the accident. Truckers record their hours of service in a couple of different ways.
- In-cab monitoring: Many new trucks are equipped with systems that track exactly how long the driver has been behind the wheel. Some of these systems will not allow the driver to continue driving if the driver has exceeded daily or weekly hours limits; others will show a clear record of exactly how much time the driver has spent behind the wheel. An attorney may take a look at the logs for the week as well as for the specific day: a driver who has been driving for only a handful of hours on a given day, but who has been overreaching all week, may still be fatigued behind the wheel.
- The log book: In every truck, there is a log book in which the driver keeps up with their hours each week. This log book is how the driver tracks the miles driven in order to determine his rate of pay, which means that have an incentive for it to be accurate. As with the in-cab monitoring system, an attorney may consult both the specific hours driven on the day of the accident as well as the number of hours driven in the days preceding the accident.
Checking Other Records
In some cases, the driver’s logbook may not be available following an accident. Some truck drivers have, in the past, actually destroyed their logbooks in an effort to prevent them from being used to prove that they were driving fatigued. In this case, other records may be used in order to establish the truck driver’s hours on the road, including:
- Toll receipts. Toll receipts are stamped with the time the truck driver passed through them. By calculating the miles between toll stops, it’s possible to prove how long the truck driver has been on the road.
- Gas receipts. Gas stations often include their address on their receipts as well as time stamps. With this information, it’s possible to see how many miles a trucker has driven and therefore determine how much time they’ve spent on the road. If the gas receipts themselves are not available, it may be possible to track the trucker’s stops based on their bank records or bank records belonging to a company credit card.
- Bills of lading. Bills of lading are prepared any time cargo is loaded onto a truck, and they are stamped with the time the driver was there. With this information combined with the location of the accident, it’s easy to tell how many miles the driver has traveled and approximately how much time they should have spent on the road.
- Meal receipts. Any time a trucker stops for a meal, he’ll have a receipt. The receipt will identify the specific restaurant and location and often provide the time the driver stopped.
With this information, it’s often possible to track a driver’s route and establish how long the driver had been on the road. Working with a lawyer is the most effective way to gather this information if you’re attempting to prove that the truck driver involved in your accident was fatigued at the time of the accident.
What Happens If Your Lawyer Proves the Trucker Was Driving Fatigued?
A trucker who was driving while fatigued may bear increased legal responsibility for the accident. If your lawyer is able to prove that the trucker involved in your accident was driving while fatigued, there are several things that may happen.
- The driver may incur strict legal penalties. A driver who exceeded the allowed number of hours on the road, for example, may have her license suspended or face other legal penalties as a result of her fatigued driving. While these consequences to the trucker may not impact you personally, your case may prevent this driver or other drivers from driving fatigued in the future, which can help save other drivers on the road.
- The trucking company may bear partial liability for your accident. If the company that hired your truck driver was responsible for the fatigued driving—say, by requiring its driver to falsify logs, or asking the driver to put in more hours than appropriate on the road—the trucking company may bear partial liability for causing the accident. Your lawyer will work to identify these circumstances so that you can file your lawsuit against the appropriate individuals.
- Proving fatigue may help determine that the trucker violated a duty of care. In order to win a lawsuit against a trucking company or a trucker individually, you would typically need to prove several things: that the truck driver had a duty of care to you; that the trucker violated that duty of care; and that you ended up with specific injuries as a result of those actions. Excessive truck driver fatigue can be used as evidence of a trucker’s breach of the duty of care to you as another driver on the road.
How Can You Avoid Accidents With Fatigued Truckers?
It can be very difficult to spot a driver who is driving while fatigued and avoid an accident. However, there are several things that you can do to keep yourself safe when you’re behind the wheel around big trucks. Try:
- Passing carefully. Try to pass big trucks when you have plenty of room to get around them, rather than riding in a truck’s blind spot. If possible, avoid passing when you’ll have to be close to guard rails and other obstructions that could prevent you from dodging if a truck driver starts weaving or displaying other erratic behavior.
- Keep alert. Any time you see a truck driver behaving erratically, take note and try to stay far away from them. If you suspect that a truck driver is driving while intoxicated or driving while fatigued, consider pulling over to contact the authorities. The police have the authority to stop the truck if needed, which can save lives if the driver is driving unsafely.
- Pay attention to truck drivers’ needs. Truck drivers have larger blind spots than traditional vehicles. Make sure that you can see the driver’s mirrors if at all possible when you’re driving alongside a large truck. If need be, back off so that you’re further back, allowing the trucker to see you more easily. Don’t tailgate semi trucks: even though they can’t stop quickly, they need to be able to see that you’re behind them in order to effectively navigate their path on the road.
- Give truck drivers right of way. Even if you believe that you have right of way, it may be more practical to allow truck drivers to have right of way when you’re behind the wheel. If you need to let truck drivers over in front of you, make sure that you’re far enough back, and signal to let them know that it’s all right to come over: a flash of your lights will usually let them know that there’s plenty of room.
- Always follow the rules of the road. When you’re driving around big trucks, it’s particularly important to use your turn signals, leave plenty of room before passing, and make sure that your intentions are clear. Avoid changing lanes abruptly, especially in front of a truck: a fatigued driver, in particular, may be unlikely to see your movement and may not be able to respond fast enough. Remember, trucks are large and slow to stop—and giving them plenty of room can keep you safer.
Get Legal Help After an Accident Involving a Fatigued Truck Driver
Have you been involved in an accident with a trucker who was driving while fatigued? If so, today at (727) 451-6900 to schedule a free consultation with one of our experienced truck accident attorneys.
Dolman Law Group
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765