Anyone who has taken a road trip knows that driving for long periods of time can be exhausting. Even though you are sedentary in the driver’s seat, staying focused on the often monotonous road can cause fatigue. Commercial truck drivers travel hundreds of miles as part of their daily job, making fatigue a major concern in the industry. When a truck driver loses focus or falls asleep behind the wheel, truck accidents involving serious injuries and fatalities often result.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reports that 13 percent of commercial drivers involved in accidents were fatigued at the time. The actual percentage is likely higher, because of underreporting or non-discovery of fatigue.
To combat fatigued driving, the FMCSA has set strict hours-of-service limits to prevent drivers from staying on the road too long and becoming fatigued. However, long hours are not the only factor that causes fatigue in truck drivers. Other factors including stress, depression, thyroid disorders, and nutritional deficiencies can also cause fatigue. One major concern in the trucking industry is sleep disorders that cause fatigue during the day.
Sleep Disorders May Lead to Daytime Fatigue
Three different sleep disorders commonly cause fatigue. When undiagnosed and/or untreated, these sleep disorders may lead to fatigued driving.
- Sleep apnea – This is a highly common sleep disorder that affects millions of people in the U.S.. People with sleep apnea experience interruptions in breathing throughout the night, which causes the brain to wake up repeatedly in order to start respiration again. While most people do not even realize they are waking up, apnea prevents them from reaching deeper stages of sleep. The poor quality of sleep leads to feelings of tiredness and fatigue during the day.
- Restless legs syndrome (RLS) – This neurological condition causes a person to feel uncomfortable feelings in their legs – as well as the urge to move their legs – often as they are trying to fall asleep or during sleep. These sensations can keep many RLS sufferers from falling asleep or staying asleep, which can cause fatigue on a regular basis.
- Narcolepsy – This autoimmune neurological condition prevents the brain from properly regulating sleep and wakefulness cycles. This not only often leads to excessive tiredness but may also cause sudden sleep “attacks” during which a person falls directly into the REM stage of sleep at inappropriate times during waking hours—for a few seconds or even minutes at a time.
If a truck driver knows he or she has a sleep disorder and fails to seek treatment, that driver may be held liable if their fatigue causes injuries to others on the road.