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Driver Fatigue: A Major Cause of Truck Accidents

Tractor-trailers, semi-trucks and other large commercial vehicles are ever-present dangers on South Dakota highways, made worse when there are lapses in drivers’ attention. Lane drifting, abrupt braking and other erratic behaviors can indicate a driver is distracted by cellphone use, affected by drugs or alcohol or suffering from fatigue.

Truck driver fatigue is estimated to contribute to as many as 13 percent of truck crashes, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that upward of 6,000 deaths annually could be the result of drowsy driving. Considering that South Dakota has more than 637,000 registered semi-trucks and that a large truck can weigh 20 to 30 times as much as a passenger car, it is no wonder that occupants of other vehicles suffer the most serious and sometimes fatal injuries in a collision.

South Dakota’s large stretches of highway, with few rest stops, offer plenty of opportunity for truck drivers to be lulled to sleep. In addition, some long-haul drivers are pressured to drive at all times of night to meet their delivery schedules. Many commercial vehicle crashes occur between midnight and 6 a.m. Fatigued driving can lead to collisions, jack-knifes and rollovers that cause vehicles to spill their cargo.

A drowsy driver is slow to react, slow to brake or steer and less likely to make good decisions or to pay attention to the road. Factors that contribute to driver fatigue are:

  • Lack of sleep — One in 25 drivers has admitted to falling asleep behind the wheel, the CDC reports.
  • Violating hours of service rules — By law, drivers of big trucks must take breaks of 10 hours after 11 straight hours of driving and cannot drive more than 60 hours in one week. In some cases, drivers do not comply with these rules but keep falsified records.
  • Illness — The flu or even a common cold can leave a driver sleep-deprived. Another health threat is sleep apnea, a blockage of breathing that interrupts a good night’s sleep.
  • Work pressure — Ambitious deadlines to deliver goods over long distances can cause drivers to push their limits and work outside of normal waking hours, depriving them of sleep.
  • Medication or alcohol — Driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, even legal ones, can cause drowsiness as well as diminished concentration and ability to control the vehicle.

There may be multiple causes for a truck accident. Determining fault needs to begin as soon as possible before evidence is lost or tampered with. An experienced accident attorney will obtain the truck driver’s logbooks, cellphone records and delivery schedules and also research whether the driver has a suspect driving history that may bear on liability.

If you or a loved one was hurt in a South Dakota truck accident, you need an experienced attorney who is well versed in state law. Anker Law Group is ready to take your call at our Rapid City office at 605-519-5967 or you can contact us online.

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    1301 West Omaha Street
    Suite 207
    Rapid City, South Dakota 57701