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Truck driver fatigue poses a serious risk of injury to other motorists

Like news media outlets around the nation, New Orleans TV stations WWL-TV and WDUS both reported on the recent tractor-trailer accident which led to the severe injury of comedian Tracy Morgan and resulted in the death of one of Morgan’s associates. It is alleged that the accident occurred due to the fact that the operator of the Wal-Mart tractor trailer was driving while fatigued. Reports are that the truck driver had been awake for more than 24 hours. Hearing about Morgan’s accident may have caused many Louisiana motorists who routinely drive on Interstate 10 to ponder the consequences of having an 80,000 pound truck suddenly plow into the rear of their car at high speed.

According to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, sleepiness can impair drivers by causing slower reaction times, compromised vision and coordination, lapses in judgment and delays by the brain in processing crucial information. Studies show that being awake for more than 20 hours results in an impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08. At times, a fatigued truck driver may slip into brief “microsleeps.” These are periods of time characterized by blank stares and a loss of attention to one’s surroundings.

Driving simulators show that microsleeps can cause the driver of a tractor-trailer to suddenly swerve the truck out of its lane of traffic. Most drivers slipping into miscosleeps may not be aware of their condition until it is too late to avoid a wreck.

If a tractor trailer rear-ends a car, or crosses over into another lane of traffic thereby striking a car head-on, the consequences will quite possibly be fatal. Assuming that one survived a horrendous high-speed crash with a tractor-trailer, any resulting injuries could be severe. High-impact collisions can result in severe brain and spinal injuries, internal injuries and possibly the loss of limbs. Comedian Morgan was in critical condition for days after his limo was stuck by the Wal-Mart truck and suffered a number of serious injuries including broken ribs, abdominal injuries, a broken nose and a broken leg.

Hours of service regs

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, fatigue is under-reported in truck accident cases because truck drivers generally do not want to admit to either being at-fault nor sleepy. However, it is known that driver fatigue is a leading factor in large truck crashes. Because fatigue is a known risk factor for road accidents, the FMCSA put “hours of service” regulations into effect in order to ensure that drivers have the adequate rest they need to operate an eighteen-wheeler. The current hours of service regulations reduce the maximum average work week for truckers to 70 hours from 82 hours and require a 30-minute break during the first eight hours of their shift. Due to trucking company lobbying pressure, there is currently a serious attempt by some in Congress to suspend or roll-back the hours of service regulations pending further study.

Obtaining compensation

While many trucking companies operate in a safe manner, some are unscrupulous and continue to permit their drivers to stay behind the wheel too many hours without adequate rest. If you have been injured on a Louisiana highway as a result of a fatigued truck driver, you are entitled to seek compensation. You are advised to call an attorney experienced in handling motor vehicle accidents as soon as possible. The attorney can investigate the accident and advise you on how to deal with the trucking company and its insurance carrier.