How Trucker Health Issues Can Elevate the Risk of 18-Wheeler AccidentsJuly 23, 2021
Some Health Problems Can Contribute to Behind-the-Wheeler Impairments for Truckers
The more health issues truck drivers have, the more likely they are to be involved in a tractor trailer accident. That’s according to the findings of a 2017 study, which reported elevated crash risks for truckers with at least three concurrent medical issues.
While driver actions, road conditions, and more usually take center stage of truck accident investigations, trucker health can play a role in causing some wrecks. Here’s how and what you need to know about 18-wheeler accidents involving trucker health problems.
How Trucker Health Issues Can Lead to Driving Performance Issues
As dangerous as the trucking industry can be, an often-overlooked threat is the sedentary lifestyle truckers have. That, coupled with poor diet and poor sleep hygiene, can all increase the risk of health issues in truckers. Commonly, truckers’ health problems include (and are not limited to):
- Drug addiction
- Heart attack
- Sleep apnea
These and other conditions can result in all sorts of dangers on the road, including (but not limited to):
- Medical emergencies: A heart attack or stroke could render truckers unconscious behind the wheel, potentially resulting in disastrous tractor-trailer accidents.
- Truck driver fatigue: Conditions like sleep apnea and obesity can make it difficult for truckers to get enough rest when they sleep. Over extended periods, that could elevate the risk of debilitating trucker fatigue, which can delay reaction times and interfere with perception.
- Impairment from medications or health complications: While some drugs can have side effects that mess with perception and alertness, it’s also possible for the conditions themselves to interfere with truckers’ performance. For instance, if diabetics’ blood sugar levels get too high, they can experience blurry vision.
Federal Regulations Require Health Checks
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires truckers to pass a medical fitness of duty test in order to legally operate 18-wheelers. This involves getting a medical exam from a qualified physician every 2 years or 24 months. In some cases, physicians may shorten this timeframe to monitor certain conditions more closely.
When drivers “pass” these exams:
- They will qualify physically to operate tractor trailers.
- The driver will be issued a Medical Examiner’s Certificate that will remain valid for 24 months (or less).
While these periodic medical exams can help uncover and treat serious health issues that may contribute to truck accidents, it’s important to remember that:
- Sometimes, health issues are missed: Conditions can be misdiagnosed or go undiagnosed. When this happens, conditions can worsen and/or give rise to new health problems, compounding the accident risks.
- Drivers may not comply with treatments: Even if health issues are known and being overseen by a qualified medical professional, not following through with the prescribed treatments can make things worse for truckers, their health problems, and roadway safety.
- Some motor carriers may flout the rules: Trucking companies may hire unhealthy drivers who fail their fitness of duty medical exams. In some cases, motor carriers may not even ask for or require medical exams from their drivers. With the shortage of drivers in the trucking industry, more and more motor carriers are cutting corners like this.
When Trucker Health Problems Cause Wrecks
It’s not always clear or obvious that a truck driver’s health may have been an issue in a tractor trailer accident. This is where an experienced truck accident lawyer can be essential. An attorney can dig into the evidence, including medical exam records for truckers, to determine when health issues may have been involved and, if so, who is liable when it’s time for victims to file claims for recovery.