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Proving a Driver Fell Asleep at the Wheel

I’m David Holub, an attorney focusing on personal injury law in northwest Indiana.

Welcome to Personal Injury Primer, where we break down the law into simple terms, provide legal tips, and discuss personal injury law topics.

Today’s question comes from a caller who said she was driving on the interstate after dark and a semi-tractor trailer truck pulled alongside her.

She said that without warning the truck drifted into her lane and struck her SUV causing it to roll into the ditch.

She speculates that driver must have fallen asleep.

However, the truck driver told the police another vehicle that failed to stop cut him off and he had no choice but to swerve and that the crash was not his fault.

You might be asking yourself; does it really matter whether the trucker fell asleep or had to swerve? Yes, it does.

By claiming that another unknown vehicle caused him to swerve, the trucker and his insurance carrier will argue that he was not at fault. He says he was as much an innocent victim as the caller.

But not so fast.

If it can be established that due to fatigue the driver fell asleep at the wheel, not only does it make him clearly responsible for the crash, it establishes that he is a liar. It means the truck driver made up his claim that some unknown car caused the crash.

Proving that the semi-driver fell asleep implicates him, and the motor carrier that put him on the road, in violating safety rules regarding maximum operating hours, if in fact, the evidence helps establish that the driver and motor carrier violated maximum operating hours regulations.

But how do you go about establishing that the driver was fatigued?

In most serious crashes involving a commercial motor vehicle, there is usually a DOT inspection of the vehicle.

An inspection will include a review of the driver’s operating logs. If there was no DOT inspection, an attorney will have to request that all driver logs be preserved. There must be a preservation request because the law permits driver logs to be destroyed after a few months.

The regulations require that a driver is not permitted to be on duty for a period greater than stated in the rules. When a driver exceeds the hours of allowable driving or on-duty time, they can be cited for a violation of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.

Drivers are required to keep written logs. Many drivers keep handwritten logs. Some motor carriers require electronic logs.

The handwritten logs are supposed to indicate where a driver was located when they stopped to enter information into the log. Electronic logs can also be tagged to GPS locations.

These logs can help establish whether a driver was driving longer than the rules permit.

This may require hiring an expert to review all of the information.

However, if the driver was exceeding the number of hours permitted, it makes it more likely that the driver was fatigued.

In addition to having a commercial driving expert, it may be necessary to look at the medical history of a particular driver.

We had one matter where a driver suffered from sleep apnea, which made him fatigued.

Another driver had recently been diagnosed with narcolepsy which caused him to fall asleep at the wheel.

Driving log requirements under the safety regulations help keep fatigued drivers off the road.

What is worse than a fatigued driver? A driver who is fatigued and lies about an unknown driver causing a crash to cover up his own fault.

I hope you found this information helpful. If you are a victim of someone’s carelessness, substandard medical care, product defect, work injury, or another personal injury, please call (219) 736-9700 with your questions. You can also learn more about us by visiting our website at DavidHolubLaw.com – while there, make sure you request a copy of our book “Fighting for Truth.”