Federal guidelines limit how long commercial truck drivers can sit behind the wheel at a stretch, as well as how long of a break they need between driving stretches, but it doesn’t always work.

With a national shortage of drivers and a steady increase over time in goods needed to be shipped, many truck drivers end up coerced by their employers to ignore these rules so they can meet strict shipping deadlines. Other times, truck drivers are paid “by the mile” so they might decide to ignore these rules on their own to increase their paychecks.

This can be exceptionally dangerous for not only the truck drivers, but for everyone sharing the road with them.

Related Reading: What Causes Tractor-Trailer Crashes?

How Long Are Truck Drivers Allowed to Drive at a Stretch?

According to federal regulations, commercial truck drivers may drive no more than 11 hours in a row, and must have at least 10 hours off duty in-between each shift. They also cannot drive more than 60 hours total in a 7-day period.

Furthermore, if they are working a shift longer than 8 hours, they need to be given a 30-minute break minimum at the 8-hour mark.

Is It Effective?

Unfortunately, just because truck drivers are given 10 hours off between driving shifts, that doesn’t mean they are necessarily spending those hours sleeping.

That means even when truckers and trucking companies are following all regulations, truck drivers may still be sleep deprived. Because truckers don’t work standard 9 a.m.-5 p.m. shifts,  their off-hours may not occur at times people are accustomed to sleeping, which can make it harder for them to fall asleep and get the rest needed to keep them alert on the road. For example, they may have their rest hours fall during the middle of the day, and then need to be on shift again through the night and early morning hours.

How Dangerous Is Driving While Tired?

Studies have shown that drowsy driving can be just as or more dangerous than drunk driving, because it creates many of the same symptoms, including problems with decision making, difficulty focusing on your surroundings, and a slowed reaction time.

VIDEO: Gary Bruce discusses driving while drowsy.

Furthermore, “sleep debt” is real. Getting just 6 hours of sleep for a week straight, rather than 8 hours, can leave a person as impaired as if they’d pulled an all-nighter. Tiredness also impairs judgment, so when you’re too tired to drive, you may not recognize how tired you actually are.

Unfortunately, drowsy truck drivers can cause far more serious accidents than people in passenger vehicles, since the average car may weigh somewhere around 4,000 lbs., but a fully loaded tractor-trailer can weigh 80,000 lbs.

Stats Around Drowsing Driving for Truckers

There are not a lot of studies around drowsy driving for truck drivers in particular, because it is hard to measure tiredness for many reasons.

  • There is no test to determine how sleep impaired someone is like there is for drugs or alcohol.
  • Drivers may not realize how tired they are because they are impaired by lack of sleep.
  • Drivers may not realize they are falling asleep if the periods of sleep are short enough (only a few seconds at a time).
  • Drivers could be lying about their tiredness before or after crashes to protect their jobs.

However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that drowsy driving caused about 91,000 crashes in the U.S. overall in 2017. According to a National Sleep Foundation study, up to one-third of drivers surveyed admitted to falling asleep while driving.

One study found that when people who got plenty of rest were asked to perform a continuous tracking activity, such as driving, for 50 minutes straight, 70% of them experienced “microsleep” episodes (falling asleep for 0.5-15 seconds). Microsleep is much more likely when a driver is tired, and makes it significantly harder for a driver to react in time to avoid a crash.

What data is available suggests drowsy driving is in fact one of the top causes of big truck accidents. Studies suggest that drowsy drivers may cause up to 40% of big truck crashes. Two-thirds of truck drivers admit to driving while tired on at least half of the trips they make, and 13% admitted to falling asleep while driving.

According to a Harvard study, truck drivers—many of whom drive overnight—who suffer sleep apnea and don’t get proper treatment have a 400% increased risk of crashing.

How We Can Help You Win Your Truck Accident Claim

If you’ve been injured in a crash with a commercial truck driver that you suspect may have been tired or have even fallen asleep behind the wheel, contact our firm.

Your injuries are likely severe, and you’ll need a lot of compensation. Trucking companies know how much money is at stake, and they’ll fight hard to keep you from getting it.

We know what evidence to get to help prove the driver who hit you was negligent, and it’s important to contact a lawyer as soon as possible after your injury to preserve as much evidence as possible. Trucking companies are only required to hold onto their logs of how long their drivers were working for six months, after which these logs are often destroyed.

Call the Law Offices of Gary Bruce today to get started on your claim.