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Tired Eyes: Investigating Commercial Driver Fatigue

Posted in Commercial Truck Accidents on April 23, 2021

Whether you are investigating a wreck for a client injured by a tractor-trailer or advising a motor carrier client on industry best practices, it would be wise to study the motor carrier’s approach to managing driver fatigue.  Driver fatigue continues to be a growing problem and safety threat to everyone on the roadway.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), driver fatigue or sleep deprivation is a contributing factor in nearly 100,000 motor vehicle wrecks and 1,500 deaths each year in the United States.  The commercial trucking industry largely contributes to this problem.

Studies have shown that driver fatigue is a contributing factor in 30-40 percent of commercial motor vehicle (CMV) crashes.  While there are specific rules and regulations designed to limit many CMV driver’s service hours (e.g., 49 C.F.R. 395 et seq.), those regulations are minimum standards that only address drive-time and do not prevent driver fatigue that frequently results from factors or circumstances occurring during the driver’s “off-time.”  For example, a CMV driver suffering from obstructive sleep apnea during the night will likely experience chronic fatigue throughout the day, despite his or her compliance with hours-of-service regulations.

There are countless other real-world scenarios where a CMV driver may be in compliance with the hours-of-service rules but still be dangerously fatigued due to other factors. BWP attorneys recently tried a case in Muscogee County, Georgia involving a fatal collision caused by a CMV driver.  The driver’s “log sheets” did not show any violation of hours-of-service rules or give reason to believe that he was fatigued, but our investigation revealed that the driver’s ability to safely operate a CMV was nevertheless impaired due to a lack of sleep and other factors unrelated to his work hours or drive-time.

CMV driver and motor carrier duties extend beyond hours-of-service compliance.  Consider 49 C.F.R. § 392.3, which  prohibits drivers from driving while fatigued and simultaneously prohibits motor carriers from allowing fatigued drivers to get behind the wheel of a CMV.  49 C.F.R. § 392.3 (“No driver shall operate a commercial motor vehicle, and a motor carrier shall not require or permit a driver to operate a commercial motor vehicle, while the driver’s ability or alertness is so impaired, or so likely to become impaired, through fatigue, illness, or any other cause, as to make it unsafe for him/her to begin or continue to operate the commercial motor vehicle.”) (emphasis added).

Each case presents its own set of facts, but examining  a motor carrier’s approach to managing driver fatigue may reveal important facts about the cause of a collision.  Find out what, if anything, the motor carrier did to make sure its drivers complied with 49 C.F.R. § 392.3.  Determine whether the motor carrier had any policies, procedures, or training in place aimed at reducing or preventing driver fatigue.  Safety experts agree that motor carriers should take a more proactive and comprehensive approach to ensuring that drivers are trained to better understand the signs, symptoms, and effects of fatigue.  One step motor carriers can take to improve safety is providing an active and effective Fatigue Management Program (FMP) for its drivers.  Although FMP resources have long been made available to motor carriers through organizations such as the North American Fatigue Management Program (www.nafmp.org), many motor carriers have not implemented into their fleets any additional fatigue management controls.

BWP attorneys have substantial experience handling cases involving CMV collisions.  We have obtained major settlements and judgments for victims and their families.  If you have questions about commercial trucking cases, we can help.