The Dangers of Fatigued, Sleep-deprived Truck Drivers

Fatigue Is A Killer

Operator fatigue and sleep deprivation are serious, worldwide safety problems in all transportation modes. Operator fatigue has been identified by national governments and the European Union as a major contributor to air, maritime, railroad, and passenger vehicle crashes. In the United States, the Department of Transportation and the National Transportation Safety Board have cited fatigue as a major factor in truck crash causation. These crashes lead to losses of life – nearly 5,000 deaths annually in the U.S. – and the infliction of severe injuries.

Rolling Sweatshops

Drivers of large trucks can be forced to operate very long shifts without adequate sleep. Truck drivers often work constantly changing shifts, drive through the night, and try to sleep in snatches of rest time during the day. The result is a virtual epidemic of crashes that is increasingly being recognized as a major reason for highway losses and high economic costs.

Truck Driver Spotlight

A former truck driver, Steve Flanders, wrote that on his first job a fellow trucker took him aside and showed him how to “cook” his logbook to conceal illegal driving hours. He needed that briefing because he often put in as many as 110 hours a week on the road. He took the demands for 5 years, then “turned in his keys” – he had had enough. “I knew I had to pull over when I saw angels hitchhiking on the side of the highway. ‘Hey, they’re not supposed to be there; this ain’t right’.” Denver Post, online edition, March 6, 2005.


• Nearly 5,000 people die each year in big truck crashes although big trucks are only 3 to 4 percent of the vehicles on our roads.
• The number of persons killed in big truck crashes in 2017 increased by 1 percent over 2016.
• Five percent more big truck occupants – almost always the drivers – died in 2017 than 2016 in big truck crashes.
• Numerous studies have shown that fatigued truck drivers play a major part in big truck crashes. Some researchers, including the National Transportation Safety Board, the AAA Foundation, and the Australian Federal Office of Road Safety, have found that 30 to 40 – perhaps 50 – percent of big truck crashes are due to fatigue that contributes to a driver loss-of-control crash.
• The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration stated in 2000 that about 15 percent of the fatal truck crashes that occur each year are due to the combined effects of fatigue and inattention caused by fatigue.
• Several researchers have shown that even small amounts of sleep loss and fatigue result in serious impairment similar to being legally drunk. Two studies showed that the impairment from sleep loss and long working hours were about the same as the slowed mental and reaction times associated with 0.05 percent blood alcohol, and that being awake for 24 straight hours has about the same dangerous effects as 0.10 percent blood alcohol – above the level now nationally recognized as being legally drunk (0.08 percent).
• Ninety-eight percent of the people who die in big truck crashes are the people in the small passenger vehicles.