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Truck Accidents Caused by Lack of Sleep, Studies Find

Truckers aren’t getting enough sleep, and it’s killing them. A combination of recent and older studies present a terrifying picture of long-haul trucking (and driving in general). Per recent surveys, at least 1 in 25 adult motorists reported falling asleep at the wheel in the last month, while 2 in 3 reported falling asleep at the wheel in the last year. Those numbers have fatal impact: drowsy driving is responsible for at least 1 in 5 fatal crashes every year, or 6,000 fatal crashes total annually.

In research conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, the CDC, and the NHTSA, there were five “risk groups” for who was likely to crash while falling asleep at the wheel.

Those risk groups included:

  • Drivers with sleep apnea
  • Shift workers
  • Commercial drivers
  • People who sleep less than 6 hours a day
  • Snorers

Commercial drivers appears on this list three times, not once. How is that possible? Because commercial drivers often adopt the sleep pattern of a shift worker to avoid traffic, and a study from 1997 found that US long-haul truckers averaged 5 hours of sleep per night.

Results of the 1997 Trucker Sleep Study

Researchers used performance monitoring and eletrophysiologic measurement to study four groups of 20 male long-haul truck drivers in the US and Canada (80 drivers total). They compared four different driving schedules, both for length of drive-time and time of shift (day or night driving).

They found that truckers were getting far less sleep than they realized.

Drivers averaged about 5 hours of time in bed per day, but just about 4.78 hours of actual sleep. However, when asked to self-report their sleep time, the drivers thought they’d gotten seven hours of sleep on average—an ideal but ultimately false figure. The researchers concluded that drivers in general may have an idealized view of their own sleep schedules.

Their finding aligns with other experts’ theories that drowsy driving could be the leading cause of fatal accidents, even above DUI. The problem is that our current numbers may not reflect the actual frequency of falling asleep at the wheel.

Other troubling findings:

  • Two drivers had undiagnosed sleep apnea discovered by the researchers
  • Two drivers had an episode of stage 1 sleep while driving
  • 56% of all the drivers had a 6-minute interval of drowsiness while driving at least once

The Impact of Drowsy Driving

Drowsy driving makes drivers less attentive, slows their reaction time, and causes them to make poorer decisions. Those are life-threatening conditions when you’re behind the wheel of an 80,000-pound machine. As if to drive the point home, researchers compared the effect of drowsy driving to a driver’s performance under certain blood alcohol levels (BAL).

What they found:

  • Being awake for 18 hours = BAL of .05%
  • Being awake for 24 hours = BAL of .10%
  • Sleep deprivation increased the effect of alcohol, even in small amounts

If you were in an accident involving a truck or a tractor-trailer (either as the driver or as another motorist), speak with us. Our Pennsylvania truck accident lawyers can explain your options in a free consultation whenever you’re available. Call (888) 498-3023 today.