Sleep Apnea, a Sleep Disorder that is Causing Strings of Truck Accidents

On the night of January 27, 2014, Douglas Balder, an Illinois State Trooper, parked his patrol car along the rightmost lane of the Ronald Reagan Memorial Tollway to assist a Chicago-bound big rig which had stalled out in the same side of the tollway. Also providing were a bright yellow Tollway assistance vehicle and a heavy-duty tow truck.

As the red and blue lights of Balder’s squad car strobed into the frozen night, the Tollway truck’s amber hazard lights and large blinking arrow flashed visibly up to about 10 miles; flares were also sputtered on the pavement.

Renato Velasquez, who drove a flatbed big rig that was loaded with three massive rolls of steel, however, neither saw the flashing bright lights nor the flares. Failing to change lanes, he rammed into all parked vehicles at 63 miles per hour, bursting the patrol car’s gas tank, injuring the driver of the stalled big rig and instantly killing the driver of the Tollway vehicle. A court discovered during the investigation into the case that Velasquez, the driver of the rig that rammed into all parked vehicles, was falling asleep moments before the accident.

Accidents involving big rigs have been occurring with startling regularity, especially those wherein drivers have fallen asleep. From April to July of 2015 alone, 21 individuals died in a string of four big rig accidents, all due to drivers nodding off. Authorities believe that wrecks due to fatigue are significantly undercounted, there being no blood test or roadside exam that will determine drowsiness; drivers also would not openly admit that they falling asleep, thus, the accident.

Besides drivers being pushed past their limits, being made to drive for longer hours, the law has also made it hard to screen drivers for sleep apnea, a sleep disorder. Employers, on their part, have also failed to ensure that their drivers and those that they hire do not have this disorder (basically to make sure that they have enough drivers, experienced or not, to complete all job orders).

An article in a website called Crowe & Mulvey, LLP, says that tucking companies are expected to follow a number of state and federally mandated regulations in the hiring of truck drivers. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for these companies to be negligent in their hiring practice. Knowing this, there is good reason, therefore, for victims of big rig accidents to take legal action against the trucking company, especially if they believe the truck driver, who caused the accident, should never have had the opportunity to be behind the wheel.

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