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Sleepy Drivers + Big Rigs = Deadly Accidents

By July 18, 2017May 26th, 2022No Comments

Big trucks and sleepy drivers make a deadly combination.  Half a million big rig accidents happen each year, and deaths from these accidents account for 10% of all traffic related deaths.

Where are tractor-trailer accidents likely?

Truck wrecks occur everywhere big trucks drive.  In California, the largest trucks are only allowed on specified interstates and state highways—thoroughfares that are part of “the National Network” of roads. These are routes that the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982 says large trucks must be allowed to use, even if the trucks are larger than California allows on most other roadways.  Around Redding, the National Network includes I-5, SR 299, SR 273 and SR 44—roads that most of us travel on a daily or weekly basis.

Sleep deprivation causes truck accidents

Too-tired truck drivers are responsible for 10-20% of all large truck accidents, according to estimates from sources including the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.  Some studies have put the estimate of truck crashes related to fatigue as high as 56%.[1]

The human and financial cost of truck drivers’ sleep deprivation has inspired research and recommendations by the National Academies of Sciences, initiatives by the Governors Highway Safety Association, and educational efforts around fatigue management for commercial motor vehicle drivers.[2]

The risks extend beyond transportation companies and truckers.  Of the 3,852 people killed in accidents involving large trucks in 2015, only 16% were people in the trucks; 69% were drivers or passengers in other cars and 15% were pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists. In fatal crashes involving one large truck and one passenger vehicle, 97% of the people killed in 2015 were in the passenger vehicle.[3]

Suggestions for staying alert while driving long distances

While the risks for truck drivers are particularly high, driver fatigue affects all motor vehicle drivers.

National Safety Council Tips for avoiding driving while drowsy include:

  • Get 7-9 hours of sleep each day
  • Avoid driving when you feel sleepy
  • Take regular breaks when driving long distances and if possible, change drivers regularly
  • Drink caffeine to help you stay alert, but know that the effects of caffeine on alertness generally diminish after a person has been awake for more than 16 hours
  • Take brief naps as needed (in a safe place)
  • During breaks, engage in a physical activity that increases your heart rate (jumping jacks, walking rapidly)
  • Be aware that alertness is reduced not just by sleepiness but also by the amount of time spent on a single activity, such as driving for hours at a time

Preventing crashes by protecting truck drivers

In addition to educating truck drivers and transportation companies about the importance of adequate rest and frequent breaks, regulations impose mandatory safety guidelines on truckers.  To reduce crashes, commercial motor vehicle drivers’ hours are regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The regulations say how many hours can be driven in a day (11 out of 14 hours that a driver is on duty), how often breaks must be taken (at least one 30-minute break within an eight-hour period), how long breaks must be between days on-duty, and how many hours can be spent driving in a work week.

Despite regulations, driver’s log books, DOT certification, and extensive education, multiple studies and surveys show that semi-trailer truck drivers drive longer than they should with less sleep than is safe.  And unfortunately, sleepy truck drivers cause dangerous truck accidents.

The attorneys at Reiner, Slaughter & Frankel Law Offices understand the regulations and laws that govern the operation of big rig trucks throughout California and the nation.  We are very experienced in dealing with corporate trucking firms, their attorneys and insurance companies, and have successfully represented clients in numerous serious injury and death cases involving catastrophic big rig truck accidents.  To learn more, contact our personal injury lawyers in Redding, California today to discuss your case with a qualified truck accident lawyer.



[1] N Engl J Med. 1997 Sep 11; 337(11): 755–761.

[2] National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.  (2016). Commercial Motor Vehicle Driver Fatigue, Long-Term Health, and Highway Safety: Research Needs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi:10.17226/21921. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

[3] U.S. Department of Transportation’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, November 2016.

Photo credit: Sam Butler via Flckr Creative Commons