The trucking industry keeps the U.S. economy moving. However, truck accidents are common throughout the United States. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), 4,119 people died in large truck crashes in 2019, and 67 percent of the fatalities were occupants of the passenger vehicles. While these accidents have many causes, many are attributed to fatigued drivers and motorists who suffer from a phenomenon known as microsleep. According to medical experts, microsleep is a short burst of sleep that lasts just a few seconds. A person cannot control these episodes and is not aware of them.
Microsleep is a body’s response to sleep deprivation or consistently interrupted sleep. When someone is exhausted, they become less alert, leading to uncontrollable bouts of microsleep. Microsleep can happen at any time, even when a person engages in demanding activities, such as truck driving.
Microsleep only shuts down only certain parts of the brain. This makes the person who is microsleeping appear to be awake, even as they sleep for a few seconds. However, they cannot process information or understand or react to what is occurring around them while microsleeping.
Microsleep can lead to truck accidents and other types of vehicle crashes. Truckers are especially prone to accidents because their work often requires them to drive long stretches of highway, and they often must drive at night or without the required breaks or rest to meet deadlines.
What Causes Microsleep?
The primary causes of microsleep are sleep deprivation and sleep that is consistently interrupted. Microsleep sufferers often include certain people, such as:
- Those who work night shifts.
- Those who work or on-call during the night or have an otherwise unpredictable work schedule that disrupts regular sleep.
- People who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea.
- People who have chronic insomnia.
- Those who take drugs that affect sleep and cause drowsiness, or sleep aids that cause next-day grogginess.
- People with narcolepsy can also experience microsleep along with uncontrollable deep periods of sleep.
What are the Symptoms of Microsleep?
Many people who experience microsleep episodes may not notice any signs or symptoms because they are unaware that microsleep is occurring. Others do notice symptoms, including:
- Forgetting the last few seconds
- Confusion while performing complex tasks or driving
- Suddenly not remembering what they were doing
- Noticing abrupt lapses in attention or focus
- Forgetting snippets of a recent conversation
- Looking awake to others but not being responsive or aware of surroundings
For truck drivers, the following signs and symptoms of microsleep may be apparent:
- Bored or blank stare while looking ahead
- Excessive blinking
- Slow blinking
- Head dropping down then up
- Trouble keeping eyes open
- Frequent yawning
Since microsleep is difficult for the sufferer to detect, anyone who suffers from sleep deprivation, whether due to their job, medicines, or medical conditions such as sleep apnea, should see their doctor. Sleep studies and an electroencephalograms (EEG) can uncover microsleep episodes.
What are the Risks of Microsleep?
When a person is so tired that they fall asleep while performing tasks, they are at risk. Some dangers of microsleep include:
- Driving accidents, especially by long-haul truck drivers, causing injury or death.
- Confusion or inattention during the day while at work or performing other activities.
- Errors at work, such as those made by health care professionals who work long hours without a break.
- Personal relationship issues when microsleep affects communication or other facets of a relationship.
- Injury to passengers. For example, bus drivers and pilots who microsleep while working overnight or extended hours.
Microsleeping is just one symptom of extreme fatigue and sleep deprivation; fatigue of any kind can also increase the risks noted above. Anyone involved in an accident with a truck should contact a lawyer.
How can a Truck Driver Prevent Fatigue and Microsleep?
Truck drivers and other microsleep sufferers should do the following:
- Contact their medical provider for medicines that improve alertness and wakefulness. Several drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can help those with shift/work disorder sleep problems.
- Undergo doctor-managed insomnia treatment that could include changing sleep habits, using medications for more restful sleep, and reducing anxiety that causes sleep problems.
- Get supervised care for sleep apnea.
- Heed government guidelines for rest periods and sleep, such as those mandated for truck drivers, pilots, and similar professions.
- Change employment or employers if fatigue and microsleep cause harm to themselves or others before a serious event occurs.
Combating fatigue is not always the responsibility of the employee. Companies and organizations must review their practices, policies, and expectations to ensure employees consistently get enough sleep and rest to keep themselves and others alert and safe.
What Should I Do After a Commercial Truck Accident?
These steps can help after an accident with a truck driver:
- Call 9-1-1 first.
- If able, check for injuries and mitigate them if possible.
- Check on others who might be injured as well.
- Move vehicles and people out of harm’s way.
- Take pictures and videos of the accident scene, vehicles involved, damages, injuries, debris, road conditions, weather, and location.
- Talk to witnesses and bystanders. Get statements about what they saw, and collect their names and contact information.
- Contact a lawyer for legal assistance.
How can a Lawyer Help Me?
Truck accidents often result in more severe injuries, higher medical costs, and longer unemployment periods than car accidents. That is why anyone involved in a truck accident needs a lawyer who is experienced in truck accident cases.
A lawyer will negotiate a fair and just settlement with the insurance carrier of the driver, trucking company, or other parties and take the case to trial if a settlement cannot be reached. Victims might receive compensation for medical costs, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other losses.
Additionally, a lawyer can help prove negligence in a case where a truck driver is suspected of fatigued driving or microsleep. They will collect and analyze evidence related to a trucking company’s practices, including:
- Scheduling drivers without considering legal mandates for rest and sleep breaks.
- Rewarding deliveries or pick-ups made ahead of schedule because of skipped rest breaks.
- Retaining drivers with known medical conditions, such as sleep apnea.
- Hiring drivers with conditions that cause drowsiness while driving or who have previously been cited for drowsy driving.
- Not enforcing rules and regulations intended to keep drivers safe and alert.
- Encouraging falsified logbook violations related to rests and breaks.
- Not punishing drivers who do not follow rest and break period guidelines.
Fatigued driving and microsleep are common causes of accidents caused by truck drivers. However, driver distraction, mechanical problems, speeding, and improper loads are among other causes of truck accidents. No matter the situation, a lawyer can advise on whether or not their client can seek damages after a truck accident.
Virginia Beach Truck Accident Lawyers Represent Victims After Fatigue-Related Truck Collisions
Microsleep is a common cause of accidents, and victims should seek justice. The Virginia Beach truck accident lawyers protect the rights of injured truck collision victims. At East Coast Trial Lawyers, we understand that truck accidents are devastating and cause catastrophic injuries, and we can protect your rights. Call us at 757-352-2237 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Virginia Beach, Virginia, we proudly serve truck accident victims throughout Chesapeake, Eastern Shore, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Suffolk, Virginia, as well as North Carolina and nationwide.