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The Dangers of Truck Driver Fatigue in San Diego

by John Gomez | Last Updated: June 29, 2021

San Diego 18 Wheeler Accident LawyerYou see large trucks and semi-tractor-trailers travel along your commute each day. Many people find these larger commercial vehicles to be dangerous and are on high alert when traveling near one. If you live in a large city such as San Diego, commercial vehicles along the main routes within and surrounding the area are a typical sight on your daily drives.

While you may frequently think about or consider the hazards of traveling alongside vehicles such as tractor-trailers and semis you may not give much thought to the truckers behind the wheel of these motor vehicles. In cases where a semi-truck accident occurs, it is often determined that the truck driver was negligent. While there are many ways a truck driver can act negligently during the operation of a truck, one common element that contributes to their reckless actions is truck driver fatigue.

Freight Shipping in San Diego

San Diego is not only the eighth-largest city in the U.S. and the second-largest city in California, but it is also home to a bustling port which is the start and endpoint for many cross-country and international shipments. The Port of San Diego is home to two cargo terminals and is a designated Foreign Trade Zone that attracts business from across the country and the world.

Ships arrive at this port carrying containers, bulky cargo, and other large items that must then be transported by land to various destinations throughout California and other areas of the country. This is a busy location that attracts constant traffic of freight trucks. As such, it is common to see many freight trucks traveling in and out of San Diego throughout some of the country and state’s main roadways.

In addition to trucks traveling from the port into the U.S., San Diego’s unique geographical location near the ocean and just minutes from the border of Mexico also makes it a common stop for international shipping trucks and commerce.

Major routes traveling through and near San Diego include:

  • Interstate 5 – San Diego Freeway
  • Interstate 8
  • Interstate 805 –  Jacob Dekema Freeway
  • Route 15

The Risk of Semi-Truck Accidents in San Diego

As a hotspot for freight shipment of containers and other cargo, it is no surprise that San Diego experiences frequent semi-truck and other large truck accidents. In a given year, almost 10,000 individuals are injured in a collision with a truck and over 300 more individuals lose their lives in a truck-related crash throughout California. San Diego accounts for over 400 of those injured individuals and almost 20 fatalities annually. In many of these truck-related accidents, the truck driver was ultimately found at fault by the investigating law enforcement agency.

Why Are Truck Accidents More Likely in San Diego?

Busy interstates filled with commuters driving to and from their daily responsibilities combined with cargo trucks traveling to and from their destinations create a hectic and congested environment susceptible to accidents between trucks and passenger vehicles. Truck drivers may be nearing the end of a long trek as they enter the San Diego area or they may be just at the beginning of a long journey with a fast-approaching deadline.

Truck Driver Fatigue is a Pervasive Problem in the Trucking Industry

Driver fatigue is one of the biggest dangers associated with trucks on the road. Commercial truck drivers travel for many consecutive hours each day often with little rest or time for a break. The government has long understood the dangers of truck driver fatigue and has enacted laws to protect the public and reduce the likelihood of accidents and injuries caused by tired truck drivers.

However, even with many regulations in place, truck driver fatigue remains a prevalent problem and continues to cause injuries and fatalities each year. Whether it is through the driver’s own actions and motivations or the pressures from their employers, drivers in the truck industry continuously place themselves and the public at risk if they drive while fatigued.

Most Common Causes of Trucker Fatigue

When you think of fatigue you will often associate it with a physical manifestation of being tired, however, mental fatigue is also an important aspect that must be considered when discussing truck driver fatigue as a whole. Truck driver fatigue can be due to not enough sleep or a lack of quality sleep in combination with other mental stressors and demands that will affect the performance and safety of a truck driver. There are many reasons a truck driver can become fatigued while on the road; most drivers face at least one of the following challenges daily and failure to take precautions or stop when they feel fatigue taking over can end in tragedy.

Internal Pressures to Meet Deadlines and Make More Money

Individuals can make a decent income driving a truck, which often requires little experience and qualifications. Truck drivers are often paid per mile; the more miles that are driven, the bigger the paycheck. Demand for truck drivers is often high and drivers do not usually experience difficulty in finding work.

The high demand coupled with pay per mile allows some drivers to earn significant money, some claiming to make six figures annually. However, to get paid more, drivers must drive farther and for longer hours. This internal pressure can push many drivers to exceed their abilities and push their bodies to the limit to earn a higher wage.

The faster a driver can complete a job, the faster they can start a new one. Truck drivers are often in an endless cycle of rushing to their next destination to maximize their earning potential on the road. This mindset causes many drivers to make risky decisions and put others at risk when they do not prioritize rest and their health.

External Pressures from Employers and Customers

Although there are restrictions on the number of hours a driver can work per day, many drivers can be on the road for up to 60 hours of drive time per week. Truck companies and customers often require tight deadlines for shipments which force many drivers to push through tired periods and fatigue to ensure they complete their tasks as expected by their employers. Truck routes and schedules can often leave little room for delay. Any traffic jam, extra minutes of rest, or other obstacles, such as weather, can potentially cause a driver to miss a deadline and face reprimand by their employers or clients.

Inadequate Sleep

A lack of restful sleep is the biggest contributing factor to driver fatigue. It is not only the quantity of sleep, but also the quality of that sleep that can affect a truck driver’s performance on the road. Most long-haul truck drivers must sleep in tight quarters within their trucks during long commutes, which is not ideal and can lead to difficulties with rest. In addition, truck drivers often drive during different times of the day, which can make it difficult to establish a consistent sleep routine while on the road.

Driver’s Overall Health & Nutrition

Unfortunately, trucking is a sedentary career and lifestyle. It is not a typical 9 to 5 position where a person goes home after work. Truckers are pretty much on the job 24/7 while on the road. Most truck drivers can make unhealthy lifestyle choices that can ultimately affect their health and ability to maintain mental focus and combat stress effectively while operating these commercial vehicles.

Improper nutrition, lack of exercise, alcohol use, drug use, and smoking are all examples of negative influences that truckers can choose to engage in while on the job. In addition, the mental and emotional impacts of this position can cause truck drivers to suffer from psychological conditions that can also affect their ability to make good decisions and avoid safety violations while driving.

The Dangers of Fatigued Truck Drivers in San Diego

The physical and mental impact of fatigue on drivers is a heavily researched and studied topic. Fatigue can affect a truck driver’s ability to safely perform their duties. Any loss of focus on the road, even for just an instant, can cause a terrible accident. Truck drivers spend many consecutive days and nights on the road and driver fatigue is something they must deal with each day. When they continue to drive while experiencing fatigue, they can cause an accident and damages to other innocent motorists driving nearby.

Fatigue can cause truck drivers to:

  • Fall asleep at the wheel The body can only handle so much stress and when a driver cannot get adequate sleep, they risk falling asleep behind the wheel, which can result in losing control of their truck.
  • React and respond slower to situations – Fatigue affects a trucker’s ability to process information and react to the problems ahead. Even the slightest delay to respond to danger ahead or an oncoming obstacle in the road can result in overcorrection or an inability to effectively react, which can result in an accident.
  • Tunnel vision/microsleep – There are many physical manifestations of fatigue that can occur to truckers when they are sleep-deprived. Tunnel vision can occur on long stretches of road and during continuous driving, which can cause a driver to lose their peripheral vision and make it difficult to see oncoming vehicles and other hazards. Microsleep is a frightening condition where an individual will drift off and become unconscious for seconds at a time and may not even realize it is happening.
  • Impaired judgment – Fatigue like driving under the influence, will affect the mood and mental abilities of an individual. Tired drivers can be at high risk to make rash decisions or make reckless maneuvers when their faculties are not at their best.

Are There Safety Measures in Place to Protect the Public?

Truck driver fatigue has been a problem for some time and laws have been put in place to combat the frequency of fatigued drivers placing others in the community at risk. The federal government has enacted restrictions and rules that employers and truckers must follow to provide safer roads for all.

Federal regulations related to truck driver fatigue include:

  • Mandatory 30-minute active drive breaks for every 8 hours of consecutive driving
  • Maximum of 11 hours of drive time after 10 hours off
  • Cannot continue to drive past the 14th hour in a workday
  • Cannot drive more than 60 hours in 7 days or 70 hours in 8 days
  • Must take a mandatory 34-hour rest to restart the weekly work clock

The hours of service restrictions reduce the likelihood of truck driver fatigue, but while they have some impact, the regulations can be difficult to enforce and monitor with so many trucks on the roads in today’s modern world. In addition, the hours on the road can still be quite extensive even when complying with these regulations. While the rules make efforts to address drive time, they do not take into consideration other work requirements, responsibilities, and activities of truckers that may interfere with their off-duty hours and shorten their rest time. Truck driver fatigue remains a problem and many truck operators admit to suffering from fatigue routinely during their work hours on the roadways.

What if You Are in an Accident With a Fatigued Truck Driver?

If you or a loved one is injured in an accident with a truck, driver fatigue may have caused the accident. Seek representation from a truck accident attorney to help you discover who you can hold liable for your injuries and how much compensation you could seek for your damages. Contact a truck accident lawyer as soon as possible after an accident to protect your right to compensation.

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