Driver Fatigue & Basic Physics: The Aftermath of Falling Asleep While Driving a Tractor-Trailer Weighing 80,000 Pounds

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, driver fatigue continues to have a negative impact on safety in the trucking industry, causing thousands of crashes each year in Illinois and other states. A truck driver is limited to 11 hours on the road each day, but the length of the workday may be as long as 14 hours. According to survey results published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, one of every ten truck operators reported getting fewer than five hours of sleep per night, and many drivers suffer from sleeping disorders such as sleep apnea that prevent the deep slumber that provides full wakefulness during the day. In a commercial vehicle, the effects of fatigue are often deadly.

Mass and velocity require more force when braking

The size and weight of a tractor-trailer makes the potential for serious injury or death in a crash much higher. The basic laws of physics show that the impact of a vehicle is affected by its mass and velocity, as well as the friction from the surface it travels on. A typical commercial truck hauling a fully loaded trailer may weigh around 80,000 pounds, in comparison to the 3,500 pounds of the average car. The difference in the mass contributes to the greater momentum that a truck has at highway speeds and to the amount of damage each vehicle sustains in a collision.

The larger size also accounts for the amount of force necessary to slow the progress of the vehicle because there is not enough friction between the wheels and the road surface to effectively slow progress without a full application of the brake system. Commercial vehicles typically have braking systems that are much stronger than those in cars in order to help control their weight, but it still takes a truck about 40 percent longer to come to a full stop.

Fatigue nearly doubles braking distance

Even if a truck operator is completely focused on the road, it will take over 300 feet to come to a complete stop when driving 60 miles per hour. A driver who is dealing with the effects of fatigue may not begin to react for 200 hundred feet or more due to delayed mental processes such as focus and coordination. Many emergency traffic situations do not provide enough warning to allow 500 feet of stopping distance. A truck driver who is alert to external events and has provided enough space between the truck and the next vehicle typically has adequate time to apply the brakes.

Victims of truck accidents may benefit from the advice of a personal injury attorney who understands the trucking industry and can help to receive maximum compensation for damages, pain and suffering.