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How Mental Health Issues Can Affect Truck Driver Performance

Many of us know that lifestyle choices can adversely impact our mental health. However, few individuals stop to think about their emotional or behavioral health adversely impacting our performance as we go about our everyday tasks, such as driving.

Recent research has shed light on how mental health issues can affect truck driver performance. What’s emerged from this is some insight that may explain why some truck accidents occur so that regulators can potentially implement regulations aimed at curbing risky behaviors that put the rest of our lives in danger here in Philadelphia.

How Impactful Are Mental Health Issues on Motorists?

A 2021 report published by the National Institutes for Health suggested that motorists suffering from mental health concerns are 3.6 times more likely to become entangled in auto accidents than those who haven’t received such diagnoses.

That rate decreases ever so slightly when it comes to tractor-trailer operators. For example, ones suffering from depression and anxiety are 2.6 times more likely to cause a truck accident than those not suffering from one of these mental health conditions.

Researchers also found that at least 34.5% of individuals suffering from mental health disorders have histories of traffic accidents.

Mental Health Diagnoses Impact Crash Rates

The study also revealed that the incident rate of crashes among motorists diagnosed with other emotional or behavioral concerns depended on the conditions they’d previously been diagnosed with.

The following percentages of motorists with one of the three following mental health conditions are most apt to become involved in auto accidents:

  • Social mental deviation:2%
  • Schizophrenia: 56%
  • Hypomania: 50%

Mental health conditions that contribute to the least amount of motor vehicle accidents include:

  • Paranoia: 9%
  • Hypochondria (anxiety surrounding medical concerns): 20%
  • Mental weakness:2%

Researchers found that at least 22% of motorists without mental health disorders were still involved in auto accidents.

Crash Severity Varies by Mental Health Diagnosis

That same research revealed that some motorists with mental health issues were likely to become involved in more medium to high severity crashes than others, including individuals with:

  • Hypomania: Are 50% more likely to have medium severity crashes; however, their likelihood of having severe ones is 0
  • Social mental deviation: 9% have medium severity crashes, and 31.5% have severe accidents
  • Schizophrenia: 32% are likely to become entangled in medium severity crashes while 24% end up involved in severe ones
  • Hysteria: At least 27.8% of individuals diagnosed with this condition experience medium severity crashes, whereas none are considered severe

How Often Do Truckers Suffer From Mental Health Conditions?

The prevalence of mental health disorders among truckers is thought to be as much as 30%. The top mental health diagnoses semi-truck drivers receive include:

  • Depression: At least 26.9% of tractor-trailer operators’ mental health diagnoses are these
  • Anxiety: An estimated 14.5% of truckers who are diagnosed with mental health conditions are thought to suffer from this one
  • Emotional problem diagnoses: At least 13% of truckers diagnosed with mental health concerns are suffering from non-specific emotional problems

Many researchers attribute these diagnoses to the mobile nature and pressures associated with tractor-trailer operators’ jobs.

As you might suspect, the list above is far from exhaustive regarding emotional or behavioral health concerns that may afflict a trucker traveling through Philadelphia into other parts of Pennsylvania and beyond.

Aside from the depression and anxiety previously referenced, truckers also often experience:

  • Inability to concentrate or focus: These behavioral concerns can be attributable to an attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) diagnosis. Truckers who become easily bored while driving are less apt to notice changing speed limits, upcoming speed zones, traffic congestion, or motorists turning or merging in, thus leaving them at risk of becoming involved in an accident.
  • Loneliness: This emotion can put truckers at an increased risk for depression, increasing their suicidality risk. Spending long hours daily on the road for several weeks without interacting with family except through technology can be particularly hard to cope with.
  • Stress: Time constraints truckers are subjected to by the fleet companies they work for or their customers can put a lot of pressure on their shoulders. Once you add into the mix having to deal with changing road conditions, whether it’s inclement weather, others’ driving behaviors, or detours, it can put tremendous pressure on their shoulders, which may result in irrational decision making, which puts the rest of our lives in danger.
  • Sleep difficulties: It’s not uncommon for truckers to find it challenging to get into a good sleep rhythm while out on the road, which may stem from their long hours or having to sleep in unfamiliar places. A lack of sleep can lead to inattentiveness, irritability or anger, increased stress, and other adverse side effects that affect a person’s mental health.

Poor diet and a lack of exercise can also make truckers more susceptible to mental and physical health impairments than others. Our truck accident attorneys here at Shrager, Sachs, & Blanco have seen our fair share of completely preventable Philadelphia crashes had truckers not been suffering from mental or physical health conditions or had at least received treatment for them.

How Federal Regulations Tackle Mental Health Among Truckers

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) sets guidelines that truckers must follow to qualify to operate an automobile like an 18-wheeler. Tractor-trailer operators must undergo U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) physicals to ensure their fitness to safely operate their semi-trucks. Passing a psychiatric evaluation may be one part of these requirements.

One downside to these health physicals is that tractor-trailer operators often pass them because they’re already taking medications to address underlying health concerns. They don’t account for what happens if a trucker, for example, stops taking their medication or experiences an adverse reaction (such as a drug interaction) to it down the road.

Problems can even happen if truckers fail to read the labels warning them that a medication causes drowsiness and not to operate heavy machinery (i.e., a truck) while on it. Adverse complications can also occur if a trucker drinks alcohol or eats something they shouldn’t.

Finding Help After Your Involvement in a Truck Accident

Trucks don’t pair well with passenger cars, motorcycles, and pedestrians. A tractor-trailer driver with thoughts and feelings impaired by mental illness is dangerous to the rest of us. Our automobiles (or lack thereof) provide little protection from harm if an unwell tractor-trailer operator strikes us.

Know that Pennsylvania law affords you rights to recover compensation when a motorist’s negligence leaves you injured or causes a loved one’s wrongful death. Reach out to our truck accident law firm Shrager, Sachs, & Blanco to discuss your Philadelphia accident case. We’ll assess liability and advise you of your rights under state law.

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