Driver Fatigue

There are a number of reasons why commercial tractor-trailers have been known to collide with another vehicle or strike a bicyclist, pedestrian, or motorcycle driver. One of the most critical and common causes of truck accidents is driver fatigue.

In fact, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration conducts special studies of driver fatigue because it has been identified as a primary cause of many collisions. This agency is also keenly aware that hours-of-service regulations that attempt to reduce driver fatigue are highly controversial and regularly violated.

The big questions involving driver fatigue when investigating a truck accident lawsuit involving personal injury are complex, but can generally be drilled down to:

  • Did the driver fall asleep at the wheel due to fatigue?
  • Did the commercial truck driver fail to recognize or interpret a dangerous situation?
  • Did he or she fail to take appropriate actions that might have been taken if the driver had been more alert?
  • Did the driver take a legal or illegal substance in an attempt to stave off fatigue?

As we have noted, federal regulations place limits on the number of hours a truck driver can spend behind the wheel and on the road in a given time period. Unfortunately, it’s quite common for truck drivers to bend these rules in an attempt to meet unreasonable delivery deadlines—and very often they are under pressure from supervisors or commercial truck operation staff to do “whatever it takes” in order to make a delivery.

In fact, driver fatigue may be a factor in as many as 35 to 40 percent of all truck accidents. When truck drivers work long hours, face impossible deadlines, but have to abide by strict schedules governing their work, the pressure to keep driving can cause fatigue to seriously impair a commercial truck driver’s judgment.

Defining Truck Driver Fatigue

When we talk about “fatigue,” we are referring to a physical state in which lack of sleep, extreme tiredness, or exhaustion — or a combination of all of the above — causes a driver to be impaired behind the wheel of a big rig. Not getting enough sleep combined with the physical stresses of loading and unloading heavy cargo can quickly take its toll on even the heartiest and healthiest of truck drivers. It is important to keep in mind that fatigue can even impair a driver’s ability to recognize how tired they are in the first place.

When a commercial truck driver is fatigued in this manner, it is easy for them to nod off, fall asleep, or simply make a major error in judgment. This means that the driver of a 30,000-pound commercial tractor-trailer traveling at 70 miles per hour can quickly turn a highway or public road into a very dangerous place for other vehicles, pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists, and threaten public safety.

Federal Rules that Impact Truck Driver Fatigue

Truck drivers are historically low-paid employees for the hours they put in. Commercial truck drivers commonly drive more than 12 hours at a stretch and, with loading and unloading, can easily put in 16 to 18 continuous hours of work. This wears a driver down and leads not only to more accidents but also accidents that cause more physical harm and property damage and sometimes wrongful death.

Despite vocal opposition from the commercial trucking industry, the federal government has intervened over the years to change the rules and duty hours for truck drivers. According to current federal laws:

  • No truck driver is permitted to drive more than 11 consecutive hours without taking a 10-hour break between two shifts behind the wheel
  • A truck driver can only work for a maximum of 14 hours, only 11 of which can actually be spent behind the wheel

These rules, which are also governed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, also require a mandatory 30-minute break after eight hours of driving, and a 60-70 hour duty limit within a week of work (seven days).

These rules were clearly established to target and reduce truck driver fatigue and, therefore, reduce the number of truck accidents. However, truck drivers and the commercial trucking operators they work for don’t always follow these rules.

Truck drivers are required to maintain a logbook of their driving hours. In the event of an accident, these driving logs have often been known to have been falsified or even disappear — robbing victims of an accurate count of the number of hours a truck driver spent on the job prior to an accident.

Factors that Contribute To Truck Driver Fatigue

Determining why truck drivers succumb to driver fatigue is fairly simple and largely based in economics. They include:

  • The desire of commercial truck drivers to make more money by driving more hours than is allowed by law.
  • Trying to meet unreasonable delivery deadlines set by supervisors or commercial trucking operations that have the driver under contract.
  • Being flat-out ordered by a trucking company to continue driving, despite firm complaints by the driver that he or she is too exhausted to keep driving. In these types of situations, drivers are at risk of losing their jobs, but fail to grasp that if they collide with another vehicle while driving in a fatigued state, they are likely to badly hurt or kill another driver.
  • Driving while fatigued may have consequences that the truck driver can’t control, even if they want to. Extreme fatigue can cause commercial truck drivers to have hallucinations, fall asleep, and even reduce their mental capabilities. Certainly, a fatigued truck driver cannot react to sudden changes on the road, causing accidents that could have been avoided had the truck driver been awake and alert.

Contact Our Houston Truck Accident Attorneys

The Houston truck accident attorneys at The Krist Law Firm, P.C. who work with truck accidents and lawsuits take action immediately to investigate whether a truck involved in an accident was impaired due to driver fatigue, substance abuse, or other factors. Our investigations into driver fatigue are just one part of a multi-faceted approach to truck accident lawsuits that include medical assessments, reviews of maintenance and repair records, perceived safety issues, and any other factors that may have caused a truck driver to harm another person in a severe truck collision.

Because these factors are complex, measuring liability can be challenging in cases involving driver fatigue. That’s why we make the effort to understand the effects that truck driver fatigue can have on the human body and to pursue fair compensation when you’ve been injured in a commercial trucking accident.

We have extensive experience representing people injured in truck accidents and know how to find the evidence and make the arguments to support your case. Find out more about how our attorneys can help you in the wake of your commercial truck accident by calling us at or contacting us online. We offer a free consultation and charge no fees unless we recover compensation for your injuries.