What Happens When Truckers Drive Fatigued?

When Truckers Drive Fatigued
What Happens When Truckers Drive Fatigued?

What happens when truck drivers drive fatigued? Several years ago, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) implemented new hours of service rules to help decrease accidents caused by truck driver fatigue. The hours of service rules limit the number of hours a truck driver can be in the seat or in the truck and mandate breaks, including small breaks, lunch breaks, and time off the road. For more information, reach out to a truck accident lawyer.

Truck driver fatigue contributes to approximately 1.5 percent of fatal truck accidents yearly, according to the FMCSA (see Table 31). Drivers who drive fatigued could also cause accidents with severe and catastrophic injuries.

Determining When Fatigue Causes an Accident

What Happens When Truckers Drive Fatigued?

Since the police do not have a test to tell when a truck driver causes an accident because of fatigue, investigators and study authors use other methods to determine whether a driver fell asleep and caused the wreck.

Some of the factors investigators look at include:

  • Driving late at night.
  • Driving during the afternoon, when the circadian rhythms peak.
  • The accident involves only a single vehicle that leaves the road.
  • The wreck is on a major highway or significant roadway with speed limits of at least 55 miles per hour.
  • No evidence exists to show the driver tried to avoid the crash.
  • The driver is the sole person in the vehicle.

Alcohol exacerbates fatigue, so police could attribute some crashes to driving under the influence.

Because of the higher speeds involved and the delayed reaction time of the driver, truck driver fatigue collisions are more likely to cause severe or catastrophic injuries or death.

Hours of Service Regulations and How They Help Prevent Fatigue

The hours of service regulations, found at 49 CFR 395, dictate how long a truck driver can drive, the length of breaks, and the length of time between consecutive work days. All drivers and carriers must abide by the hours of service regulations unless the government waives them for a national emergency.

Bus drivers must also abide by the hours of service regulations when carrying passengers.

The hours of service apply mainly to long-haul drivers and include:

  • A driver can drive no more than 11 hours after having 10 hours off. Bus drivers can drive no more than 10 hours after having eight hours off.
  • Truckers cannot drive after being on duty for 14 hours after a 10-hour off period. If a trucker takes breaks during the 14 hours, the breaks do not extend the 14-hour period. Bus drivers cannot drive after 15 hours on duty after an eight-hour off period.
  • Truck drivers must take at least a 30-minute break every eight hours of driving. The driver can be on duty as long as he is not driving. He can take a nap in the berth or spend time out of the truck.
  • Truck and bus drivers cannot drive for more than 60 hours in seven days or 70 hours in eight days. Truck drivers can restart the seven- or eight-day period after taking 34 hours off.
  • Truck drivers can divide their 10-hour off-duty time into two separate times, as long as one of the times is at least two hours and the rest of the time is at least seven consecutive hours in the sleeper berth. The times must add up to 10 hours. Or, the driver can take one long 10-hour period. Bus drivers must take at least eight hours of sleeper berth time and can also split the time as long as one of the periods is at least two hours.
  • If a truck driver encounters adverse conditions, she can extend the 11-hour driving limit or the 14-hour driving window by no more than two hours. Bus drivers can also extend their 10-hour max driving time and 15-hour duty time by no more than two hours.

Truck Accident Injuries Caused by Fatigued Truckers

If a truck driver falls asleep and causes an accident, the accident victims often suffer more severe or catastrophic injuries, if not death, because of the size and weight of the truck. Additionally, speed plays a role in the severity of the wreck.

Fatigued truck driver accident injuries might include:

Bumps, Bruises, Scratches, Cuts, and Scrapes

While these injuries are minor, they could turn into something significant. Open cuts, scrapes, and scratches could become infected and require additional medical care and medications.

Soft Tissue Injuries

Strains, sprains, pulled and torn muscles, pulled ligaments, and other soft tissue injuries are some of the more minor injuries you could sustain in a truck accident. These types of injuries rarely need surgery unless you tear a muscle or a ligament.

While these injuries generally heal in weeks, some might require physical therapy after or as part of recovery. Depending on the severity of the injury, recovery could take weeks or months.

Broken Bones

You could suffer from broken bones if a tired truck driver runs into you. Simple fractures, which do not penetrate the skin, could take several weeks to heal. Compound fractures penetrate the skin, usually require surgery, and take longer to heal.

You could also suffer from crushed bones, which generally require surgery. The severity of the broken or crushed bone dictates the length of time it takes to heal, mainly if the bone damages muscles or nerves.

Internal Injuries

When a truck hits you, you could be thrown around inside or thrown out of the vehicle. If you hit something small enough, such as the stick shift, it could cause internal injuries. If a piece of the vehicle tears, it could also cause internal injuries. Even a seatbelt putting extra pressure on your body could cause internal injuries.

Head, Neck, and Shoulder Injuries

A truck hitting you could violently throw you against the seatbelt. Your head and neck might travel farther than your body, come to a sudden stop and bounce back. It could be from front to rear or side to side. This type of movement could cause whiplash, brain injuries, and other injuries to the head, neck, and shoulders.

Traumatic Brain Injuries

When you hit your head, you could suffer a traumatic brain injury. A truck accident could cause you to crash your head on the window, airbag, seat, or any part of the vehicle if the impact throws you around. Even a mild concussion is a traumatic brain injury. The two main types of traumatic brain injuries are penetrating and non-penetrating.

Penetrating injuries are catastrophic; however, not all non-penetrating are catastrophic in that you could seemingly recover. Concussions, which might seem like minor injuries, could cause chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which usually manifests later in life.

Even if you believe head injuries are minor, you should always seek medical attention immediately, especially if this is not the first time you’ve suffered a head injury.

Back and Spinal Cord Injuries

A fatigued truck driver who crashes into you could cause damage to your spinal cord, causing issues with sensation, strength, and body functions below the injury site. Spinal cord injuries could also affect you emotionally, mentally, and socially. Severe cases of spinal cord injury could leave you permanently paralyzed or disabled to the point that it becomes difficult or impossible to complete tasks.


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Trucks often carry flammable materials. A wreck could cause those materials to leak and catch fire. In some cases, fuel and other combustible materials could explode. You could sustain thermal and chemical burns—thermal burns from the heat of the fire and chemical burns from the material that gets onto your skin.

Severe burns could require several surgeries to repair and could leave you permanently disfigured or with excessive scarring.

Road Rash

If the impact of the crash throws you off the vehicle, you could suffer road rash injuries. A road rash is a burn caused by heat from sliding on the pavement. It is very easy for road rash to become infected if you don’t clean the wound properly or if the wound is large. Seeking medical attention for road rash is as important as seeking medical attention for other serious injuries so that doctors can flush and debride the wound as needed.


You could suffer the amputation of a digit or limb if the impact of the crash throws you out of the vehicle or if the truck slams into the vehicle so hard that it tears the vehicle apart. The torn pieces could slice through an arm or leg.

Additionally, if doctors cannot repair an injury or an open wound becomes gangrenous, they might be forced to amputate a digit or limb.

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Recovering Damages After a Truck Accident

Determining who might share liability for your damages is often difficult when a commercial driver causes an accident. Additionally, if your injuries lead to long-term or permanent disabilities, the amount you could recover is often higher

Who is Liable for My Damages?

The truck driver who falls asleep is most likely liable for your damages. However, others might also share liability, including a dispatcher who “threatened” a truck driver to deliver a load on time or risk getting fired. In such cases, a driver might fudge his books so he can drive over the time dictated by the hours of service.

Compensatory Damages

The compensation you could recover after a fatigued truck driver accident has two categories.

Economic Damages

Economic damages have a monetary value. Most everyone injured in a truck accident can recover economic damages.

Sometimes referred to as special damages, economic damages include:

  • Medical expenses: Doctors’ appointments, surgeries, follow-up appointments, prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, ambulatory aids, and medical equipment. Medical expenses might also include hand controls for your vehicle and updates to your home, such as widened doorways, wheelchair ramps, handrails, and grab bars.
  • Therapies: Cognitive therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy. If an accident is traumatic enough, an accident victim could suffer anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, or depression and require psychological therapy.
  • Wages: If you suffer truck accident injuries, you will likely be out of work for a bit. You could recover compensation from the time of the accident through the time you settle or receive a trial award. However, if you have long-term or permanent disabilities, you could also recover loss of future earning capacity. If your injuries allow you to work but only part-time or at a job that pays less than your old job, you could recover compensation for loss of partial earning capacity.
  • Death-related expenses: If you lost a loved one in a truck accident, you could recover funeral and burial expenses, cremation expenses, certain probate court expenses, and probate attorneys’ fees.

Non-Economic Damages

Sometimes referred to as general damages, non-economic damages do not have a monetary value.

In most cases, only those whose injuries cause long-term or permanent disabilities or those who lose loved ones collect non-economic damages, including:

  • Pain and suffering, including emotional distress.
  • Loss of quality of life if you have to make lifelong changes, such as using ambulatory aids or taking prescriptions.
  • Loss of companionship if you can no longer enjoy time with your family or you can no longer attend family activities and events.
  • Loss of consortium if you can no longer enjoy a physical relationship with your spouse.
  • Loss of use of a body part such as a foot or an arm.
  • Loss of use of a bodily function such as your bladder or eyesight.
  • Inconvenience if you have to hire someone to do the chores you usually do, including but not limited to grocery shopping, home repair and maintenance, house cleaning, and lawn maintenance.
  • Extra compensation for an amputated digit or limb.
  • Extra compensation for excessive scarring and/or disfigurement.

Punitive Damages

Russell Nicolet
Russell Nicolet, Truck Accident Lawyer

Some states allow you to recover punitive damages. However, you must prove that the defendant’s actions or inactions were grossly negligent or intentional disregard for the rights of others. The court orders a grossly negligent defendant to pay punitive damages as a punishment rather than to make you whole again.

If you suffered injuries or lost a loved one in a truck wreck, contact a truck accident lawyer or personal injury lawyer for a free case evaluation.