Drowsy driving is an occupational hazard among truck drivers. Long hours behind the wheel, pressure to meet very tight delivery deadlines, and the monotony of highway driving are just a few of the reasons why drowsy driving remains a common problem in the trucking industry.
Unfortunately, when a truck driver is sleep-deprived and fighting the overwhelming feelings of exhaustion, they are at an increased risk for microsleep episodes, which are brief periods of sleep that can last anywhere from a fraction of a second to several seconds.
Falling asleep at the wheel for even a split second while operating a massive 80,000-pound commercial truck can have devastating consequences, particularly if there are other vehicles in the vicinity. If you are seriously injured in a truck accident involving a drowsy driver, do not hesitate to contact an experienced lawyer.
What Causes Microsleep?
The main cause of microsleep is a lack of adequate rest, which is a common problem among truck drivers who are under a great deal of pressure to meet tight delivery deadlines. Despite the hours of service (HOS) regulations, truck drivers often find ways around these so that they can deliver their cargo on time, which means they often end up driving while drowsy.
Microsleep is also caused by the following sleep disorders:
- Obstructive sleep apnea: This is a blockage in the upper airway that interrupts breathing while sleeping, causing the brain to get insufficient oxygen during sleep. People with obstructive sleep apnea are often drowsy during the day.
- Narcolepsy: This causes extreme drowsiness and intermittent, uncontrollable episodes of falling asleep during the day.
- Periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD): This is a condition that causes the arms and legs to twitch, flex, and jerk during sleep. These movements can occur every 20 to 40 seconds and can continue throughout the night.
- Circadian pattern disorder: When the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle is disrupted, it can cause symptoms ranging from feeling less alert, difficulty staying awake, and memory issues.
- Alcohol and certain medications: In addition to affecting coordination, muscle control, and judgment, alcohol can cause drowsiness. The more drinks a truck driver has had, the drowsier they become. There are also many prescription and over-the-counter medications that cause sleep problems, including antidepressants, high blood pressure medications, and antihistamines.
What Are Symptoms of Microsleep?
If you have ever started to veer into another lane or zoned out and awakened when your vehicle hit the rumble strip, you have likely experienced microsleep. While microsleep does not fall into either of the two stages of sleep, an episode of microsleep can last up to 10 full seconds. As you can imagine, this can cause a catastrophic accident if a truck driver becomes drowsy and experiences episodes of microsleep.
These accidents can be prevented if truck drivers pay close attention to the signs of drowsiness and take the necessary steps to take breaks and get the rest they need. The following are some of the common symptoms associated with microsleep episodes.
- Slow blinking.
- Difficulty keeping eyes open.
- Inability to recall the last one to two minutes.
- Not responding to information.
- Staring blankly.
- Experiencing sudden body jerks.
- Excessive yawning.
- Drifting out of your lane.
- Head droops then jolts back up.
What Are the Dangers of Microsleep?
Microsleep episodes are extremely dangerous for any motorist, but particularly for truck drivers because of the sheer size and weight of the average commercial vehicle. One small mistake behind the wheel can have devastating consequences. For example, if you doze off for three seconds while traveling at a speed of 60 miles per hour and you veer into the wrong lane, you could travel approximately 300 feet going in the wrong direction.
What Steps Is the Trucking Industry Taking to Address Drowsy Driving?
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) established HOS regulations for the commercial trucking industry in an effort to prevent drowsy driving truck accidents:
- Truck drivers who transport cargo may drive up to 11 consecutive hours, but only after they have been off duty for at least 10 consecutive hours prior to their 11-hour shift.
- There is a 14-hour limit to the number of hours that a truck driver may operate a commercial truck after coming on duty.
- In addition, according to federal regulations, truck drivers must take a 30-minute break after driving eight hours, and at least seven of their 10 off-duty hours must be in the truck’s sleeper berth.
How Can Truck Drivers Prevent Microsleep Episodes?
The best way to prevent devastating truck accidents related to drowsy driving is to be aware of the signs of drowsiness and to take proactive steps to get plenty of rest. Truck drivers are urged to take the following steps:
- Take regular breaks. Monotony can affect a trucker’s alertness after only about a half an hour, so they should try to change what they are doing and take regular breaks.
- Take a nap. Even a short 20-minute nap can help prevent microsleep and drowsiness. A truck driver should pull over to a save spot and set an alarm if they think they will have trouble waking up.
- Treat sleep disorders. If a truck driver suffers from obstructive sleep apnea, they may want to consider using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine.
- Have a caffeinated drink. While a truck driver should not rely solely on caffeinated drinks to stay awake while driving, it can help as a short-term solution. They should avoid drinking caffeinated drinks too close to bedtime.
- Talk to someone. During a long stretch of monotonous highway driving, having a conversation with someone on a hands-free device can help. Having a conversation with someone also speeds up breathing and pumps extra oxygen into the bloodstream.
- Make smart meal choices. While it may be more convenient to grab food from a fast-food restaurant, a truck driver should avoid eating foods that are overly processed, fried, or high in sugar.
- Get regular exercise. In addition to being part of a healthy lifestyle, this will help improve the quality of sleep they get each night.
- Limit screen use at bedtime. Staring at a brightly-lit screen at night can stimulate the brain, making it more difficult to fall asleep.
- Avoid caffeine before bed. Consuming caffeinated beverages too close to bedtime prevents a truck driver from being able to fall asleep naturally.
- Create a comfortable sleep environment. A truck driver should make sure they have a comfortable mattress in the sleeper berth, as well as a good quality pillow and comfortable bedding. They should keep extra blankets for when the temperature drops. They should also keep the area as dark as possible to encourage sleep.
What Damages Are Available in a Truck Accident?
Truck accidents are some of the most devastating and destructive that occur on roads and highways across the country, and it is often the occupants of the passenger vehicles that suffer the most severe, often fatal injuries. If you suffer from a catastrophic injury because of a truck accident, you may be eligible for the following damages:
- All medical expenses associated with the injury.
- Lost wages.
- Loss of future earning capacity.
- Loss of enjoyment of life.
- Property damage.
Cherry Hill Truck Accident Lawyers at DiTomaso Law Advocate for Those Injured in Drowsy Driving Truck Accidents
If you have a severe injury because of a fatigue-related truck accident, you are urged to contact one of our Cherry Hill truck accident lawyers at DiTomaso Law as soon as possible. We will ensure that your legal rights are protected every step of the way. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 856-414-0010 or contact us online. Located in Philadelphia and Cherry Hill, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania and South Jersey, including Mt. Holly, Camden County, and Vineland.