The U.S. has a major problem with drowsy driving. Drowsy driving carries alarming risks, dangers, and often tragic outcomes. Sleepy or fatigued driving is drowsy driving, and this often happens due to insufficient sleep, but it can also stem from untreated sleep disorders, medication, alcohol, or shift work.
Sleepiness comes over everyone at a different time. Falling asleep at the wheel is dangerous, but being sleepy can also impair a driver’s ability to drive safely. Someone is less likely to pay attention to the road when drowsy. Their reaction time slows if they have to brake or steer suddenly, and they are less likely to make good decisions when they are drowsy. This leads to serious accidents and injuries.
How Often Do Americans Fall Asleep While Driving?
One recent study of nearly 150,000 adults across 19 states and the District of Columbia found that 4 percent of adults had fallen asleep behind the wheel in the previous 30 days. The likelihood of falling asleep while driving increased for people who snored or slept six or fewer hours daily.
Drivers don’t always realize how tired they are. Drowsy driving isn’t always evident until a driver weaves between lanes or loses concentration.
To avoid dangerous fatigue and accidents, drivers should:
- Avoid drowsiness-causing alcohol and medications
- Get enough sleep before driving a long distance
- Take a 10-minute rest break after every 100 miles of travel
- Wear a seatbelt at all times
These tips are not followed by all drivers, unfortunately. Driving while sleepy can lead to accidents involving other cars, highway signs, and other heavy objects. Drowsy driving accidents are typically associated with severe injuries, such as head trauma, spinal cord damage, disfigurement, or even death. The cost of medical treatment and long-term therapy for severe injuries can devastate victims and their families.
Every traffic collision reported to the police is tracked by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and there are roughly 100,000 motor vehicle accidents due to drowsy driving annually. Over 71,000 people suffer an injury and 1,550 die each year because of drowsy drivers, according to NHTSA data.
According to a report by the Governors Highway Safety Association, fatigued drivers killed 5,000 people in a recent year. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that 328,000 crashes caused by drowsy driving occur yearly, resulting in 109,000 injuries and 6,400 deaths. According to AAA research, the U.S.’s driver fatigue problem is 350 percent worse than reported.
According to a poll by the National Sleep Foundation, sixty percent of adult drivers in the country report driving while sleepy in the past year. Thirty-seven percent said they fell asleep behind the wheel at least once a month, and 13 percent said it happened often.
At highway speeds, even a four or five-second lapse in conscious attention will allow the vehicle to travel the length of a football field without the driver’s knowledge.
Who Are the Drowsiest Drivers in America?
The most common cause of driving drowsy is not getting enough sleep. American adults in this category make up 35 percent of the population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This 35 percent is more likely to apply to certain groups.
Motorists under age 25 cause at least half of drowsy driving collisions. One explanation is that college learners statistically sleep less than average — usually less than six hours per night. Drowsy driving is more common among male college students than among females.
Tractor-trailer, tow truck, and bus drivers operate the heaviest and largest commercial vehicles on the road. There is a high risk of severe injuries and death when these vehicles are involved in accidents.
Sadly, truck drivers often log dangerously long hours in the commercial trucking industry. Truckers at the Port of Los Angeles often work shifts of 20 hours or longer, six days a week, according to USA Today.
To ensure that commercial truck drivers do not drive while fatigued, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires the following accommodations:
- Truckers can log up to 60 hours during a one-week-period and up to 70 hours including the weekend.
- Truckers must take a 10-hour break after 11 total driving hours or 14 hours on duty.
- Truckers must take a 30-minute break every eight hours.
The following groups are also susceptible to fatigue while driving:
- Long-shift workers, especially those who work at night
- Sleep apnea sufferers
- Those who take sleep-inducing prescription medications
Even if none of these apply to the driver who hit your car, there is a chance they might still be drowsy for other reasons.
Not everyone takes steps to prevent drowsy driving-related injuries and deaths. The first thing drivers should do is get more sleep so they don’t drive drowsy. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, adults need at least seven hours of sleep every night.
College students should recognize that this is a particularly vulnerable time for fatigued driving. Discuss safe driving with your teen and complete a safe driving agreement. Students should discuss the topic with their peers and encourage each other to avoid driving when drowsy or impaired.
Other helpful steps drivers can take to avoid drowsy driving include:
- Choose a car with new crash avoidance technology, such as lane departure warnings and drowsiness alerts.
- Be sure to read the labels on all medications carefully. It is not always easy to understand the extent of side effect warnings.
- Employers of night-shift workers and commercial drivers should implement a safety and health program emphasizing the importance of sleeping enough to avoid drowsy driving. Encourage employees not to drive drowsy by providing a quiet room with cots, pillows, and blankets for naps before driving.
- Do not hesitate to report a company that violates regulations that prevent commercial drivers from driving drowsy.
When drivers do not follow these basic prevention tips and they injure you, you can hold them liable.
Driving While Drowsy vs. Driving While Drunk
Drowsy driving is similar to drunk driving. As a result of fatigue, a driver’s ability to remain attentive, reaction time, and awareness of hazards on the road all deteriorate. Most will agree that driving drunk is a major problem. However, there is just as much danger in driving while drowsy.
A blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent — the legal definition of under the influence in the U.S. — is the same effect on the human body as driving after 20 hours without sleep. Fatigued drivers have slower reaction times, decreased attention spans, and are less able to recognize and respond to changes on the road.
Further, even small amounts of alcohol can exacerbate fatigue symptoms. UCLA Sleep Disorders Center researchers found that a single beer had the same effect as six beers when drivers only slept for four hours. Drowsy drivers are just as dangerous as drunk drivers.
Driving while fatigued is just as hazardous as driving while drunk, but there is no law against it. The police do not conduct campaigns or set up checkpoints. Drunk drivers who cause accidents can face serious criminal charges. They may lose their driving license, go to jail, and pay fines.
A police officer can often do little after an accident caused by a drowsy driver other than file a police report. Injury victims and their attorneys must determine whether a driver was driving while drowsy.
What Methods Are Used to Catch Drowsy Drivers?
Often, police don’t catch drowsy drivers until they cause an accident. It is difficult to determine accurately whether a driver was fatigued at the time of an accident unless they admit it. An intensive investigation might be needed to identify whether fatigue caused an accident.
Your attorney will investigate the accident’s circumstances as soon as you suffer an injury. As part of the investigation, your lawyer will speak with eyewitnesses to obtain their testimony. Observations from eyewitnesses can shed light on whether the driver was fatigued at the time of the accident.
Your lawyer may also ask for the driver’s prescription medications and medical history in addition to eyewitness testimony. The labels of many prescription and over-the-counter medications state whether they cause drowsiness.
How Should You Respond to an Accident Caused by Drowsy Driving?
Were you in a car accident due to drowsy driving? Take the following steps if you have not already done so:
If you have immediate medical needs, the police can assist you and direct traffic away from the vehicles. They can also investigate the scene. Inform the officers if you or your passengers suffer an injury that requires immediate medical attention so they can arrange for emergency medical assistance. Call the police if you suspect driver fatigue, no matter what the other driver says. You should never take money from the other driver, as this may prevent you from receiving compensation in the future.
Analyze the Damage
Check your car and personal belongings for damage. If you have physical injuries, accept medical attention. Having your injuries documented by a healthcare professional is necessary for your case.
Contact a Car Accident Attorney
You might wonder whether you need to contact your insurance company, and you might receive calls from the drowsy driver’s insurance company shortly after the accident. Avoid speaking with any insurance representatives until you talk to an attorney. Having a car accident lawyer on your side right away can help start the process sooner, as they can take over insurance communications before you make any mistakes that hurt your claim.
Insurance companies can take advantage of unrepresented claimants. Even if you plan to hire a lawyer in the coming weeks, any conversations with insurance adjusters now can jeopardize your case. Seek legal representation before you begin insurance communications.
The Recovery Process After a Drowsy Driving Accident
You deserve compensation if you or a loved one suffered an injury because of drowsy driving. You can hold the negligent driver responsible for harming you and your family, whether a night shift worker who should have napped before driving, a trucker who worked overtime shifts without a break, or a person who took nighttime allergy pills before driving. Just as drunk driving kills, drowsy driving kills, and perpetrators must compensate their victims. There are dedicated traffic accident lawyers who can assist you.
You Need an Attorney
A drowsy driver is a dangerous driver. It takes just a blink of an eye for them to cause serious injuries or even death.
You are not alone if you have suffered an injury in a car accident caused by a drowsy driver. If you are in a car accident, you require the assistance of a knowledgeable and experienced law firm with the resources to handle these complex cases. You will have support from a car accident attorney who will negotiate on your behalf with the auto insurance companies every step of the way.