Truck Driver Fatigue to Blame in Taking the Life of Mother of Two.

On a bright, early autumn sunny afternoon in September, Janice Widmer and her two young children Chase and June were driving home to Vermont from a nearby birthday party in New England.

As Mrs. Widmer reduced her driving speed in an oncoming construction zone where the traffic merged into one lane, a semi-truck driving at high speeds smashed into the back of Janice’s car, pushing the family into a tractor-trailer driving in front of her.

The man in the semi was suffering from truck driver fatigue. He had fallen asleep at the wheel, causing severe injuries to the two young children – June, 7 sustained multiple fractures and Chase was left in a coma after suffering a very traumatic brain injury. Janice Widmer sustained fatal injuries and did not live to see another day with her two young children.

A lawsuit against the truck driver and company was brought forward, alleging negligence causing the death of Janice Widmer and massive injuries to her two children. Allegations that the driver was suffering from truck driver fatigue were confirmed and damages were awarded to the plaintiff in the millions.

No amount of money will replace Mrs. Widmer in the now drastically altered lives of her children. June is expected to make a full physical recovery, while Chase now suffers from speech impairment and aphasia as well as being indefinitely confined to a wheelchair. Janice’s surviving son suffers from extreme learning disabilities because of his brain injuries that fateful day and now requires constant care 24/7.

The fatalities caused by major commercial vehicles operated by unfit drivers suffering from truck driver fatigue continues to climb in numbers. Poor scheduling – back to back shifts with insufficient sleep allowance, all culminating in catastrophic events on the road.

One of the major leading causes in crashes today is truck driver fatigue. In a study from 2007 conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration drivers reported that pressure from work and inattention contributed to their semi truck road accidents. 11% of fatal accidents involving large commercial trucks occurred in 2008, 97% of which caused the death of the involved car occupants.

Truck driver fatigue can be caused by poor quality of sleep, lack of sleep, interrupted sleep, working rotating schedules and night shifts. All of these resulting in a reduction of ability to process information, slowed reaction times and poor judgment.

Large commercial vehicle operating companies continue to improve upon policies and information regarding the prevention of truck driver fatigue. As of 2004 to date, it is acceptable for drivers to be on duty 60-70 hours each week, something that the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety argues increases the instances of truck drivers falling asleep behind the wheel.

The current rules to prevent truck driver fatigue related fatalities in place for drivers operating a large truck are:

  • 14 hour maximum consecutive on duty (including all non-driving activities such as loading and unloading, paperwork, truck maintenance etc.)
  • 10 consecutive hour minimum for off-duty time between driving on-duty shifts
  • 11 consecutive maximum hour driving time on duty

Efforts continue in awareness and prevention regarding the hours that drivers work among other factors that can contribute to lethal truck driver fatigue.