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Drowsy driving often a cause of serious truck accidents

We live in a “go-go-go” world. There are 24-hour grocery stores, around-the-clock news channels and a constant input of information via our televisions, smart phones and computers. Studies have shown that Americans, as a whole, are sleeping less than we did just a generation ago. This “sleep debt” isn’t just a problem for our tired bodies and weary minds, though. When we climb behind the wheel without adequate rest beforehand, accidents happen, and the consequences can be catastrophic.

Drowsy driving facts

According to data compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an estimated 100,000 crashes each year are caused by drowsy drivers. Furthermore, the National Sleep Foundation reports that over half of drivers polled admit driving without being adequately rested; nearly 20 percent of American drivers surveyed report falling asleep behind the wheel. The NSF also reports that the cognitive impairment of someone driving who has been awake for 18 hours is akin to having a .05 blood alcohol content (almost the legal limit for intoxication).

Unique challenges for truck drivers

In the trucking industry, time is money. This is particularly true of drivers who are paid not by the number of miles they drive, but by the number of loads they deliver. Getting there faster literally means more money in the bank, since it means they can load up a new shipment and hit the road again. This sort of thinking – the willingness to sacrifice sleep and “down time” in order to make a delivery because they need to get paid – is exactly what has contributed to the epidemic of high-profile, drowsy-driving-related crashes in recent years.

There have been various legislative efforts, many of them shot down due to the influence of lobbyists working on behalf of the powerful trucking industry, designed to force truckers to take mandatory rest periods. There are, in fact, federal regulations designed to limit truck drivers to no more than 11 hours behind the wheel before taking a break, and to ensure that they have gotten at least 10 hours respite prior to that time.

Additional, more stringent, provisions of the law were recently struck down as part of Congress’ last-ditch efforts to pass a budget in late 2014. Apparently, riders were tacked on to other legislative measures that, in essence, negated the efforts of those who fought for hours-of-service regulations after meticulous study of the impact of sleep deprivation on drivers. These now-defunct provisions had required mandatory night-time breaks (including the hours between 1:00am and 5:00am) at least twice a week. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced that the provisions had been struck down effective December 16, 2014.

What to do if you have been injured

Given the huge weight and size disparity between commercial vehicles like 18-wheelers and smaller passenger cars, it is no surprise that truck accidents often result in serious injuries or deaths. The majority of the damage, of course, is inflicted upon the occupants of the smaller vehicle. If you or someone you love has been injured because a truck driver fell asleep at the wheel, failed to perform necessary maintenance on his rig, was speeding to make a delivery or was otherwise negligent, you have legal rights. To find out more about ways in which to protect your rights and hold the at-fault driver accountable, contact an experienced personal injury attorney at Bracamontes & Vlasak.