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Truck Accidents - Asleep at the Wheel

Karns & Kerrison

Many truck accidents are caused by truck driver fatigue causing the truck driver to fall asleep at the wheel and get into a truck accident.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) indicates that sleep deprivation is a factor in almost 100,000 motor vehicle accidents and 1,550 fatalities per year in the United States. Regarding truck accidents, studies indicate that sleep deprivation is a contributing factor in at least 30% to 40% of crashes.

Sleep deprivation can cause truck accidents by affecting a truck driver's ability to safely operate the truck by increasing the time it takes to react and diminishing attention.

Truck drivers on overnight or early morning routes are more susceptible to the effects of sleep deprivation than during normal daylight hours because of disruptions in their natural sleep pattern. The Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration (FMCSA) governs the maximum amount of time a truck driver can drive before taking a break. These rules are known as Hours of Service (HOS) and require truck drivers to maintain a drivers log on their time, activity and location in the log book. These rules are in place by the federal government to help prevent sleep deprivation and fatigue in truck drivers.

The truck driver operating a large tractor trailer in excess of 60,000lbs creates an extremely dangerous situation when the truck driver is likely to fall asleep at the wheel from sleep deprivation.

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that occurs when a person's breathing is interrupted during sleep. People with untreated sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep, causing extreme sleep deprivation.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is caused by a blockage of the airway usually when the soft tissue in back of the throat collapses during sleep.

Some of the risk factors for sleep apnea include:

  • Being male
  • Being overweight
  • Being over age 40
  • Having a large neck size (17 inches or greater in men and 16 inches or greater in woman)
  • Having large tonsils, a large tongue or a small jaw bone
  • Having a family history of sleep apnea

Truck drivers have many of the risk factors noted above. Most especially, truck drivers that drive all the time and do not get sufficient exercise will have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more which is considered obese.

When a collision occurs caused by a truck driver suffering from obstructive sleep apnea injuring passengers of a smaller automobile there can be many responsible parties:

  • The truck driver
  • The trucking company
  • Freight broker
  • The doctor performing the DOT examinations of the truck driver
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