If you drive on a regular basis, you may have experienced it: that overwhelming fatigue that can creep in as the hum of traffic on a busy roadway lulls you. Your head starts feeling heavy and your eyelids begin to droop. You might try to open a window or turn up the stereo to snap yourself out of it, but the fact remains: Drowsy driving can be as dangerous as drunk driving, and leads to countless accidents that injure or kill people. This is especially true for commercial truckers who drive long distances on little sleep.
This week, a truck driver was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty to aggravated vehicular homicide. The charge stems from an accident in 2010 on the Ohio Turnpike that killed a Maryland woman and seriously injured her two children. The woman, a professor at Stevenson University, was returning to Cockeysville with her sons after visiting relatives. According to police, the truck driver fell asleep, causing his tractor-trailer to crash into the family's car and slam into five other vehicles just outside Cleveland.
The woman's husband said he didn't take any pleasure in seeing the truck driver go to prison, but hoped the case would bring more attention to the issue of driver fatigue, especially as it applies to long-haul commercial truck drivers. These drivers face tremendous pressure to deliver their goods on time, leading many to drive for long stretches without adequate rest. Although laws exist to limit the amount of time truckers can drive before taking a mandatory break, these laws are not easily enforced.
It's not clear how long the trucker had been driving when he fell asleep at the wheel. But even truckers who follow the law can face a civil suit for personal injury or wrongful death if they fall asleep and cause an accident that injures or kills someone. Truckers who are paid by the mile instead of the hour may see rest times as lost wages, but that lost time and money pales in comparison to that of a prison sentence or damages owed in a civil lawsuit after a serious accident.
Source: Baltimore Sun, "Driver whose truck hit, killed woman gets five years," Candus Thomson, Jan. 12, 2012