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A trap for the weary: How fatigued driving affects truck drivers

Written by Steve Gursten Posted February 13th, 2013

Studies have shown that driving fatigued has serious short and long term health effects on sleep-deprived truckers

fatigued truck driversDriving trucks and commercial motor vehicles is a hazardous job.  As truck accident lawyers, we certainly can relate well with the truckers, many who we represent when they are injured on the job from motorists.  There are many obvious dangers involved, and it has been our experience from litigating and settling over 600 truck accidents that usually every crash has multiple factors that played a role.   Some are obvious, such as making an illegal turn. Some, like driver fatigue, is less obvious but just as dangerous.

How serious a problem is driver fatigue?  New studies show that truck driver fatigue is one of the leading causes of preventable accidents.

Lowered mental acuity or dozing off behind the wheel can have disastrous results. But beyond these clear risks, there are hidden dangers for the truckers themselves. What truck drivers might not know is that by driving fatigued, you are putting enormous  strain on your body.   Driving without sleep can leave someone as impaired as if they drank a number of beers and drove intoxicated.  And then there are the serious short and long term effects of consistent sleep deprivation to consider.

One reason the three founding members of the Roundtable started this website was to help truck drivers and push towards safer roads.  One thing to remember is even if your fatigue does not cause a tractor-trailer crash and even if you get lucky do not hurt somebody else while driving fatigued, you still will hurt yourself.

Studies indicate that on average, truck drivers get slightly under five hours of sleep per night when on the job.  The effects, especially the long-term effects, are not apparent right away.  However, chronic sleep deprivation involves serious health risks. These can be categorized into short-term and long-term effects.

Short term effects of chronic sleep deprivation include:

  • Decreased performance and alertness
  • Memory and  cognitive impairment
  • Stress on personal relationships
  • Poor quality of life (because you may be too fatigued to participate in things you ordinarily would, like sports, etc.)
  • Occupational injury (which is also dangerous to other motorists)

Long term effects of chronic sleep deprivation are even more serious.  These include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Increased risk of heart attack or heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Obesity
  • Psychiatric problems including depression and other mood disorders
  • Attention Deficit Disorder

What truckers can do to avoid chronic fatigue and safeguard health

There are a few things you can do as a trucker to get more rest. The good news is, they are all pretty simple and convenient:

  • Take rest breaks before, during, and after your work period.
  • Do not make the mistake of taking on difficult or stressful tasks just before starting work.
  • Make sure to get some rest soon after your work period ends.
  • Timing is critical in maintaining a high level of mental acuity so spread out rest breaks after careful planning.
  • You should also take sleep breaks (not to be confused with rest breaks).
  • Sleep well and try to plan your sleep schedule.
  • One study found that human error is most likely to occur between 1:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m.  So maybe try planning to sleep in that time frame.
  • The same study also revealed that the second most likely period of human error occurred between 2:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.  Perhaps that time frame would be a great opportunity to take a rest break.

Nobody wants to get in a truck accident.  Even more than that, nobody wants to cause a truck accident.  Driving fatigued causes accidents. Do yourself a favor; please do not drive fatigued. Do it for yourself, and do it for others who share the road with you!

Related information:

Misguided FMCA proposal will cause more crashes by tired truckers

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About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group. He has been named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. Steve was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case. He has received the top reported truck accident jury verdict and top reported truck accident settlement in Michigan for multiple years, according to published year-end compilations of all jury verdicts and personal injury settlements by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has been named a "Top 50 Super Lawyer," by SuperLawyers, is listed in Best Lawyers in America, and has been awarded an AV-rating by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating for legal ability and ethics. Steve speaks to lawyers throughout the country on truck accident litigation. He is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, head of Michigan Auto Law, and has dedicated his legal career to making our roads safer.