Driving is a task that requires both mental and physical exertion. To drive safely, it is crucial for drivers to maintain their focus on the road. Unfortunately, when a driver is feeling drowsy or fatigued, their ability to effectively navigate traffic becomes compromised. Their reaction speed slows down and their cognitive processing abilities become impaired.
Approximately 50% of adults in the United States acknowledge drowsy driving as an issue, with a shocking 20% confessing to having fallen asleep while driving within the past year. An alarming statistic shows that 1 in 25 drivers report having nodded off while driving at least once in the previous month. The consequences of falling asleep while driving can be catastrophic.
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The Hazardous Consequences of Driving While Fatigued
When a driver is feeling drowsy, it can have serious effects on their decision-making, judgment, focus, coordination, reaction time, and alertness. The following behaviors are commonly exhibited by drowsy drivers:
- Lane drifting
- Difficulty in maintaining a consistent speed
- Difficulty in maintaining a safe following distance from other vehicles
- Delayed reactions to potential hazards
Unfortunately, many crashes that result from drowsy driving occur when a driver veers off the road or into another lane at high speeds.
Identifying the Factors that Increase the Risk of Drowsy Driving
Drowsy driving is a serious concern and the risk factors associated with it are numerous. Regrettably, many of these risk factors are prevalent among commercial truck drivers. Some of the most common risk factors for drowsy driving include:
- Driving during the early morning hours between midnight and 6 a.m., when the body is naturally inclined to be sleepier
- Driving on monotonous roads
- Driving alone for long periods of time
- Insufficient sleep, having less than six hours of rest
- Sleep disorders such as sleep apnea
- Chronic sleep deprivation
- Poor sleep quality
- Young drivers who are more susceptible to drowsiness
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or other medications
- Shift workers who have disrupted sleep patterns
- Professional drivers who spend a lot of time on the road.
Drowsy Driving: A Hazard on the Roadway
Driving a motor vehicle while feeling tired is a common phenomenon, however, it can also be a dangerous one. The consequences of drowsy driving are significant and yet, it often receives less attention than drunk driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has reported that in a single year, drowsy driving led to at least 91,000 crashes, resulting in 795 fatalities and 50,000 injuries. These numbers have remained relatively unchanged year after year.
While drunk driving is relatively easy to detect with reliable measurements, drowsy driving is not as straightforward. There is no concrete way to measure if a driver was operating the vehicle while fatigued, and many drivers do not admit to being drowsy at the wheel, causing accident investigators to attribute the crashes to other factors. However, researchers have reported that about 6,000 yearly accident fatalities are due to drowsy driving, accounting for roughly 21% of all motor vehicle crashes. These accidents come with a high cost, with estimates placing the annual cost of drowsy driving between $12.5 billion and $109 billion.
Drowsy and drunk driving have many similarities and are equally dangerous. Controlled studies have shown that drunk and drowsy driving result in a similar number of accidents. Drivers who are under the influence of alcohol often have difficulties with vision, depth perception, and speed judgment, while drowsy drivers struggle to remain vigilant on the road and react to driving conditions. In fact, driving without sleep for 24 hours can result in impairment equal to a blood alcohol content of 0.1%, while even just 6-7 hours of sleep can double the risk of being involved in a crash.
In conclusion, drowsy driving should not be overlooked as a serious and potentially deadly driving hazard. It’s essential for drivers to understand the risks and take steps to ensure they are well-rested before getting behind the wheel.
Obligation to Ensure Safe Driving: Sleepiness and Responsibility
Drivers and their employers have a responsibility to act with care towards others on the road. This requires them to behave in a way that a reasonable person in their position would, such as not running a red light. If they fail to do so and cause an accident, they may be held liable for breaching their duty of care.
However, when it comes to drowsy driving, both drivers and employers often fail to uphold this duty. Drivers may fail to get adequate sleep, stop driving when feeling tired, seek medical attention for sleep-related health problems, or report their own or others’ drowsiness to a supervisor. Employers may not have enough staffing, enforce policies on work hours and rest periods, educate employees on managing fatigue, provide rest breaks, or evaluate in-vehicle monitoring systems for signs of fatigue. Both drivers and employers have a responsibility to take necessary precautions to avoid drowsy driving and maintain the duty of care on the road.
What Happens if a Fatigued Driver Hits You?
If you are involved in a collision with a drowsy driver, it’s important to take immediate action to protect your health and well-being. Firstly, seek medical attention as soon as possible, even if you don’t feel any physical symptoms at the time. Hidden injuries can be serious and potentially life-threatening, so it’s important to receive a professional evaluation from a doctor.
It can be challenging to determine the root cause of an accident, especially in regards to driver fatigue. The driver involved in the collision may admit to being tired or show signs of fatigue immediately following the incident. The police who respond to the scene will conduct an investigation and prepare a report.
To protect your rights and interests, it is recommended that you consult with a personal injury attorney as soon as possible. They can review the details of your case, assess whether you have a strong personal injury claim, and provide guidance on seeking compensation for your injuries. This may include conducting their own investigation, which may involve reviewing the law enforcement report and any available records.
If the driver involved in the accident was a commercial driver, your San Diego car accident attorney may also review their compliance with federal laws related to rest and sleep while operating a commercial vehicle.
Sleep Disorders and Health Conditions that Contribute to Drowsy
Sleep disorders, medical conditions, and other health problems can play a role in drowsy driving. In some cases, a driver or their employer may be held liable if they failed to recognize the symptoms and seek medical evaluation.
Here are some common medical conditions and sleep disorders that can lead to drowsy driving:
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)
Additionally, individuals with the following conditions have also reported frequent sleepiness:
- Parkinson’s disease
- Certain heart conditions
- Complex internal health problems.
If a driver or their employer was aware of these conditions and failed to seek medical evaluation, they may be held responsible in the event of an accident caused by drowsy driving.
Medications that Cause Impaired Driving
It’s crucial to consider the impact of medication on driving ability. Some drugs can induce drowsiness and make it challenging to operate a vehicle safely, even if the driver has had adequate sleep.
In case of an accident caused by another driver, your attorney will investigate if the driver was taking any of the following medications that have the potential to cause drowsiness:
- Cold and cough remedies
- Certain antihistamines used for allergy treatment
- Sleeping pills
- Narcotic pain medication
- Muscle relaxants
- Some antidepressants
- Some high blood pressure medications.
Avoiding Drowsy Commercial Truck Drivers
Commercial trucks, including tractor-trailers, buses, tow trucks, and garbage trucks, are some of the largest and heaviest vehicles on the roads. Unfortunately, truck accidents often lead to severe injuries and fatalities.
The commercial trucking industry is notorious for pushing its drivers to work extremely long hours on the road. Despite the dangers, trucking companies frequently ask their drivers to drive for 20 hours or longer, up to six days a week. This practice goes against federal regulations, however.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has implemented guidelines to ensure commercial truck drivers remain alert and awake when driving. These regulations include:
- A maximum of 60 hours of work per seven days, or 70 hours every eight days.
- After driving for 11 hours total or being on-duty for 14 hours, drivers must take a mandatory ten-hour break.
- A minimum of one 30-minute break for every eight hours of on-the-clock time or driving.
Employers who fail to comply with these regulations are breaking the law and putting other road users at risk. If an employer is found to be disregarding these rules, it should be reported to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Employees who make such reports cannot be retaliated against by their employers, and if an employer does retaliate, it should be reported to the FMCSA.