Extreme fatigue plays a factor in many fatal accidents along State Highway 72 in South Texas. Recently National Public Radio reported on the new danger on roads that connect oil boomtowns with refineries.

Earlier this year, a van crashed into the back of a school bus. The van carried workers on their way home from after completing a 24-hour shift. The driver likely fell asleep, because there was no evidence that he applied the brakes before hitting the school bus. None of the students on the bus suffered injury. But tragically, the driver and several passengers in the van died in the accident.

One of the biggest workers’ compensation insurers said that oil and gas companies have filed 24 claims related to fatal car accidents from January through July. In 2009, the total for the year was only eight.

The long shifts put in by oil workers increase the dangers. For instance, a driver may be fighting sleep while heading home after a 12-hour night shift. Sleepiness is similar to alcohol or drug-impairment in that it impairs judgment and slows reaction time.

Unrecognized sleep disorders and prescribed medication adds to risks behind the wheel. For instance, sleep apnea is often missed and may take years to correctly diagnosis. Drivers at the highest risk are those who work third shift or drive a substantial number of miles each day.

Hours-of-service rules for commercial drivers

The drivers that put in the most miles are likely commercial truck and bus drivers. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulates the amount of time that commercial drivers spend behind the wheel each week in an effort to reduce the number of drowsy driving commercial vehicle accidents.

The hours-of-service rule prohibits drivers from spending more than 11 hours behind the wheel. The limit on an overall workday is 14 hours.

In the summer of 2013, changes to the rules reduced the maximum workweek from 82 to 70 hours. Drivers must also take a 34-hour break before starting their next week. The break must include two overnights. Another change was to require a 30-minute break within the first eight hours of a shift.

Recognizing the symptoms of fatigue and safety tips

Signs of fatigue vary from the obvious, such as yawning and eyes closing to wandering thoughts and the inability to remember driving several miles. Back tension and burning eyes are other signs of fatigue.

Short of pulling over and taking a nap, there are things that can reduce risks of falling asleep behind the wheel. For instance, avoid driving between 12 am and 6 am and keep the temperature in the car cool.

While there is still no test to conclusively identify drowsy driving, there may signs that fatigue played a role in a crash. The lack of skid marks and time of day are a couple. When it seems that the negligence of another caused a motor vehicle accident, speak with an experienced personal injury attorney. Monetary damages to pay for medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering may be available.