California’s bustling freeways include a constant rumble of trucks. Routes through the Central Valley coming from either the ports of San Francisco, Los Angeles, or Long Beach make up the lifeline of the state’s economy. These massive vehicles crisscross the state, driven by individuals who often push the limits of endurance. But one hidden adversary can creep in silently and lead to devastating consequences: truck driver fatigue.
According to one study by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), truck driver fatigue is a deadly issue. Over the course of just one year, large trucks were involved in an average of 6,100 crashes every week, or 868 per day, with an average of 75 fatalities per week, or 11 each day. In another study, 13% of commercial truck drivers were considered to be in a state of fatigue when they crashed.
If you’ve experienced an injury or lost a loved one in a truck accident where driver fatigue played a role in the crash, the road to justice can seem overwhelming. But the law is on your side – and you can take steps to seek redress and recover a sense of peace.
How Many Hours Behind the Wheel Is Too Many?
California has strict trucking hours of service rules that limit how long drivers can work before they must take a break. These laws and regulations are based on scientific studies that link driver fatigue to decreases in performance and increases in fatal crashes.
As a result, truck drivers have hard limits in California, such as:
- No more than 11 hours worked over each 14-hour shift
- Eating, restroom, and napping breaks during every 14-hour shift
- A mandatory 10 hours spent off-duty before the next 14-hour shift
- For every 8 hours worked, at least one 30-minute break
- No driving over 60 hours total in 7 days or 70 hours in 8 days
However, these rules and numbers aren’t magical. They act as a guideline – beyond these limits, the risk of accidents from truck driver fatigue increases significantly. And in an industry propelled by time-sensitive deliveries, the pressure to meet deadlines can be relentless.
The Role of Overwork and Deadline Pressures in Truck Accidents
Research has shown that truck drivers increase their crash rate by 3.5 times if they continue to operate after 10 hours of driving, compared to their first hour of driving. But trucking companies may inadvertently or deliberately pressure their drivers to work through their fatigue.
When drivers get overworked, the risk isn’t just personal but shared with every vehicle on the road. Tired drivers may have slower reaction times, impaired judgment, and a diminished ability to assess risks properly – all of which can lead to catastrophic accidents and wrongful deaths.
In California, the dense traffic and long stretches of highway can amplify the effects of driver fatigue. Even within legal limits, a driver may become dangerously tired. The human body and its need for sleep do not always align with the demands of schedules and delivery deadlines.
Evidence of Truck Driver Fatigue
Proving that a truck driver was tired at the time of a crash often requires a multifaceted approach, gathering both direct and circumstantial evidence.
- Direct evidence can include logbook entries, electronic logging device (ELD) data (otherwise known as “black box” data), or hours of service (HOS) records, which provide a timestamped account of a driver’s work and rest periods. Any inconsistencies involving mandated rest breaks or excessive hours are red flags that could indicate that the driver was compromised by fatigue and unable to operate their vehicle safely. In some cases, even the cargo manifest could support an argument that the driver was under pressure to overdeliver, especially if the schedule shows a pattern of tight delivery schedules.
- Circumstantial evidence can include witness statements and other observed behavior patterns that may point to fatigue – for example, reports from other drivers on the road or from rest stop employees who saw the trucker’s demeanor before the accident. Was the driver seen dozing off or complaining of exhaustion from overtime? Did others see a pattern of erratic driving, swerving, or inconsistent speeding? Health records and medical expert testimony can also establish a pattern of fatigue, especially if the driver is known to suffer from a sleep disorder or has a history of treatment for inadequate rest.
Each piece of evidence serves a critical part in uncovering the truth of what happened in your trucking accident. An experienced truck accident lawyer can help you track down the evidence you need to prove your case and craft a compelling narrative to ensure you get justice.
Who Is Liable in a Fatigue-Related Trucking Accident?
When an accident is caused by a fatigued truck driver, several parties might be held liable:
- The Driver – If a driver knowingly operates a vehicle while excessively tired, they can be held directly liable for the consequences of the crash. If they’re an independent operator, they or their insurance provider could be on the hook for your damages.
- The Trucking Company – Even if the driver knowingly operated a truck while fatigued, you could still hold the trucking company responsible under the legal rule of vicarious liability, which holds employers liable for the actions of their employees while on the job.
There may be additional parties who played a role in causing the crash – for example, maintenance providers who caused a mechanical failure or vehicle manufacturers who created defective truck parts. Determining liability often requires trained legal help from a lawyer as well as insight from experts in trucking regulations and accident reconstruction.
If you or someone you love has been a victim of a trucking accident in California, it’s crucial to consider the possibility of driver fatigue as a contributing factor. By knowing the cause of your crash, you can get through the complex process of getting accountability and compensation.
You are not alone on this journey – the professionals who focus on unraveling these tragic events can offer not just legal assistance but understanding and moral support. At Sepulveda Sanchez Law, we can help you get the compensation you deserve so that you and your family can recover and move forward in the aftermath of these catastrophic crashes.
Your consultation is free and we work on a contingency fee basis, which means you don’t pay us unless we recover damages for you. Contact us now to get started on your case.