Trucker fatigue is a serious safety concern for anyone driving. Drivers who have gone too long without adequate sleep will notice the consequences of fatigue, which include compromised decision-making, difficulty focusing and longer reaction times. There is also the possibility of someone falling asleep at the wheel when exhaustion gets the better of them.
The federal government helps minimize the looming threat of fatigue-related commercial transportation collisions by imposing Hours of Service rules. There are limits to how long a truck driver can be on the road in one shift and over multiple days. Those limits help prevent companies from forcing drivers to work longer than is safe.
However, the science around sleep shows that rest on its own doesn’t inherently increase driver safety. Drivers who rest for a short amount of time and get back on the road might actually demonstrate significant impairment at the wheel as well.
Naps can lead to sleep inertia
When you wake up at the wrong stage of sleep, specifically a deep or REM sleep, it takes much longer than usual for your brain to begin operating at full capacity. This experience, called sleep inertia, affects everything from judgment to physical coordination.
Experts estimate that it takes approximately 20 minutes for someone to move past the sleep inertia they experience when waking up from a deep sleep. If a driver naps and then gets back at the wheel within a few minutes, they could have profoundly compromised driving abilities when they first get back on the road.
Fatigue can be hard to prove in court
The unfortunate truth is that conclusively proving a driver felt fatigued at the wheel would require them making a statement to that effect. Most drivers, especially those who drive for a living, will not admit to doing something dangerous at the wheel.
Still, you could raise concerns about sleep inertia or overall exhaustion affecting a driver based on their professional records. Someone who has been on the road for 11 hours may experience extreme fatigue, while someone who heads back on the road after an hour break could potentially also exhibit impaired driving ability.
Even if you can’t prove the exact cause, you can still potentially pursue an insurance claim when a commercial truck wrecks your vehicle or leaves you injured. Knowing the leading causes of commercial trucking collisions can help those trying to avoid a wreck.