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Most trucking accidents are caused by the error of truck driver who is impaired in some way, whether by alcohol, prescription drugs or, most commonly, driver fatigue.

Although truck drivers have required rest periods as part of the Department of Transportation’s Hours of Service rules, economic factors cause many drivers to ignore such rest breaks and drive well beyond their limits. Most drivers are paid by the mile rather than with a steady salary, which causes them to rush deliveries and put as many miles as they can under their belts and ignore safety in order to improve their financial payoff.

The tragic costs of such fatigue, unfortunately, abounds. In 2006, an Indiana highway crash killed five students from Taylor University, located in Upland, Ind. Students were riding in the van at night when a semi-trailer crossed the center line, hitting the van head-on. Some emergency personnel called it the worst crash they had ever seen — all because the driver had fallen asleep at the wheel. That was due, in part, because he had failed to take rest breaks. A four-year prison sentence was the result for he driver after he pled guilty to several counts of reckless homicide and criminal recklessness.

The driver and his employer were insured by a policy with liability limits of two million dollars.  The van the students were in was owned by Taylor University and insured by Indiana Insurance Company, which was compelled by a lawsuit to pay damages pursuant to the Underinsured Motorist Provision in its policy. The court eventually oversaw a global settlement of more than 9 million dollars on behalf of the five victims.

In another example, an accident resulting from a sleepy truck driver involved an 80-year-old Missouri woman, a passenger in her daughter’s car, who was seriously injured when the trucker abruptly turned into their path. A resulting lawsuit was settled for 1.32 million the day before the trial was to begin. The officer on the scene initially concluded the accident was the daughter’s fault.

If you are in accident with a truck, where you suspect the driver fell asleep or didn’t respond properly, you should investigate if the driver was in violation of the Hours of Service rules. In such a case, getting the right information from the trucking company can be difficult, especially when trying to prevent the routine erasure of vital operational data contained in the truck’s equipment. This is where attorneys can be most helpful in discovering the facts of the case and obtaining whatever compensation is owed to you

Your vigilance in this regard can also serve to encourage trucking companies to improve their vigilance and their drivers’ vigilance in adhering to the Hours of Service rules. The cost of not doing so is just too high.