Truck accidents are too common and often deadly. A fully loaded semi tractor-trailer rig can weigh over 50 tons. A passenger vehicle weighing a ton or less is no match for these goliaths of the highway. Demanding employers frequently push trucking company employees and independent contractors alike to put in long hours on the road. Naturally, there is a tendency towards fatigue when long hours are mixed with the tedium of the road. A new study by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) focused on the affects of coffee on trucker fatigue but contains some interesting data for Ohio personal injury attorneys as well.
Previous medical reports have equated the tedium of long distance driving with drowsiness and decreased alertness. In the U.S., state and federal regulations have attempted to reduce the risk of tired truck drivers by mandating certain practices, like interval breaks so drivers can get rest, hour limits, and requiring truckers to maintain a log so that compliance can be verified. Nonetheless, exhausted drivers remain a hazard. The recent BMJ study looked to see if the consumption of caffeinated beverages, such as coffee, tea and energy drinks, reduced fatigue-related crashes. The study results showed that drivers who use caffeine to manage fatigue were 63% less likely to be involved in a crash.
The study also contained a survey in which more than one third of truckers reported having difficulty staying awake at times during the month preceding the study period. The survey probably underestimates that percentage since it is based on self-reporting. Yet, only 70% of the truckers acknowledged that they stopped when sleepy in order to rest. Thus, during the study period, 10% of the studied drivers were engaged in the dangerous act of driving while sleepy. With 2 million tractor trailers in the U.S., in any given month, 100,000 to 200,000 sleepy truck drivers may be roving amongst the cars on our interstates, state routes, city streets, and turnpikes.
Under Ohio law, an injured motorist need not prove that a truck driver was fatigued to prevail in a claim arising out of a truck crash. Motor vehicle accidents are typically resolved by the police report. In other words, insurance companies rely on the determination by officers investigating truck and car accidents as to who was at fault. Officers make this determination by interviewing parties and witnesses, assessing the scene, taking measurements of skid and yaw marks and photographing the property damage. When the collision is severe, the investigation is usually more detailed. However, when a fatigued driver is involved, the potential for punitive damages arises.