According to statistics published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drowsy drivers cause up to 100,000 accidents in the United States every year, including over 40,000 injuries and at least 1,500 fatalities.
How many of us have driven while drowsy? Really, who among us hasn’t done so?
Most of us do not operate commercial vehicles, which can be involved in especially serious and deadly traffic accidents due to their size and weight. This was brought home to the people of the Central Valley recently, as reported by various media outlets.
According to those outlets, two major accidents occurred within just two hours of one another, and both involved the same drowsy driver.
In the first, the driver of a large bus had been in a restaurant parking lot when his bus hit the restaurant’s roof. The accident was believed to be attributed to fatigue on the part of the bus driver. Just a little over two hours later, that same bus and bus driver were traveling down Interstate 5 when the bus drifted down an embankment. This caused the large vehicle to flip over, killing at least one passenger and injuring another thirty.
Drowsiness is believed to be one of the primary causes behind both accidents. Unfortunately, commercial drivers experience a high amount of fatigue while operating those large vehicles. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, commercial drivers are among a select set of drivers who are most likely to operate these large vehicles despite experiencing severe fatigue. Attempts by industry to regulate the amount of time commercial drivers are on the road have thus far proven relatively ineffective.
In an attempt to reduce the number of drowsy commercial drivers on the roads, new federal Hours of Service (HOS) regulations were created for truck driver workweeks and resting periods, accordingly:
- The maximum workweek for commercial drivers was reduced by 12 hours, down to 70 hours per week.
- The amount of daily driving was reduced to 11 hours.
- A 30 minute lunch break for drivers became mandatory.
- A new workweek can only begin following a 34-hour rest period, which must include two periods of sleep that fall between 1 AM and 5 AM.
These new regulations were met with resistance and criticism from the trucking industry. Commercial drivers, they claimed, require more flexibility in their schedule. They also argued that these new regulations were going to lead to higher truck traffic volume on the roads at times when the volume is already believed to be at its limit. Lawmakers sympathetic to the trucking industry managed to get these regulations suspended pending further research.
When Drowsy Driving Becomes A Legal Issue
Drowsy drivers who cause vehicular accidents that result in injury or death may very well be considered negligent held legally liable. If a driver chooses to ignore HOS regulations and in the course of this decision causes an accident, it seems like it would be simple to show that the driver is at fault in a legal situation. However, proving that kind of negligence is never that easy, because one must be able to prove that the driver was operating his or her vehicle while drowsy and while outside of the regulated hours.
It is imperative for anyone who has been injured in an accident with a commercial vehicle to seek the proper legal representation as soon as possible, whether they suspect fatigue to be the cause or not. Meeting with a qualified attorney offers the injured party the very best chance of receiving the compensation they deserve.