Commercial vehicle accidents in Texas and around the country claim thousands of lives each year, and a worryingly large number of them are caused by truck drivers who remained behind the wheel when they were dangerously fatigued. Drowsy driving has always been an underreported problem because fatigue leaves no telltale signs, and motorists who crash after falling asleep are usually wide awake and alert by the time accident investigators reach the scene. This is why the data from government agencies like the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration do not reveal the true extent of the problem.
The dangers of drowsy driving
Few American drivers would get behind the wheel after taking drugs or consuming alcohol, but studies suggest that they routinely drive when they find it difficult to keep their eyes open. Both impairment and fatigue increase the chances of a motor vehicle accidents by reducing reaction times and influencing decision making, and experts say that driving after 24 hours without sleep is as dangerous as getting behind the wheel with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.10%. That is higher than the legal driving limit in every state, and it is more than double the legal limit for truck drivers.
Technology could be the answer
Lawmakers and road safety advocacy groups hope that technology could make fatigued driving far less common. The FMCSA now requires truck drivers to maintain electronic rather than written records, and just about all tractor-trailers now have black-box devices that track speed and driver actions. Many also have video cameras installed in their cabs. When a truck driver blamed a December 2021 accident on a tire blowout, investigators learned that he had actually fallen asleep by watching video footage shot by such a system.
Evidence of fatigue
When no video footage of a fatigued truck driver is available, investigators can still find evidence of drowsiness or distraction by studying electronic data recovered from crashed trucks. This information could show whether or not the driver took evasive action before the collision, such as swerving or applying the brakes. In the future, electronic systems may monitor truck drivers during their trips and issue alerts when they notice signs of drowsiness.