We've all by now, I hope, heard of the analogy that driving while texting is like driving with your eyes closed. When your eyes aren't on the road, it's as good as driving blind. Drowsy driving is a more literal take on the idea. Drowsy driving isn't limited to falling asleep while driving, but also driving while sleep deprived. Similar to drunk driving, driving while sleep deprived impairs a driver's attention, reaction time, and ability to make the many necessary decisions driving involves. Also known as "fatigued driving" it's a factor in thousands of fatalities and injuries on the roads each year.
One AAA Foundation study found that 1 out of every 5 fatal crashes involves drowy driving. The numbers of these types of devastating car crashes are rising. Just an hour or two less than the recommended number of hours sleeping per 24-hour period dramatically increases crash risk.
It's not a surprise that the vast majority of drivers think that if someone is too sleepy to keep his eyes open, he should not be driving. But with numbers of crashes involving sleep drivers as high as it is, it seems to be another instance of thinking that the rules don't pertain to ourselves, only other (bad) drivers.
Sleepy drivers are committing a reckless act that endangers others, and their actions can have devastating consequences for others. If a sleepy driver hit you or a loved one, it's important to talk to a personal injury attorney skilled with representing car accident victims. You may be eligible for compensation beyond what the insurance companies have initially offered.
How does drowsy driving cause car accidents?
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducted a study on drowsy driving to find out what makes it so dangerous. They found that critical aspects of driving were all affected by lack of sleep: reaction time, vigilance, attention and information processing. It can also make actually falling asleep at the wheel irresistible.
NHTSA crash investigators typically find the following characteristics of a car accident where fatigue was a factor:
- The crash occurred after midnight and before morning, or at midafternoon.
- The driver did not attempt to avoid the crash.
- The crash is likely to be serious.
- The crash took place on a high-speed road.
- A single vehicle went off the road and crashed.
- The driver of the vehicle was alone.
Taken all together, these factors paint a frightful picture: a drowsy driver falls asleep at the wheel, and plows straight into the first object the vehicle randomly encounters. Or, a driver nods off for just a split second, just long enough to leave the roadway, snaps to attention and overcorrects, loses control of the vehicle and crosses the centerline, and boom - hits someone else at full speed head on.
Who is most at risk for drowsy driving?
The NHTSA study discovered the following drivers are most at risk for fatigued driving: young drivers, especially male, aged 16-29, night-shift workers, and those suffering from sleep apnea or untreated narcolepsy. Additionally, some routinely-prescribed drugs affect sleep and make drowsy driving more likely. The label warnings are true, and you should not drive if you take sedatives like anxiolytic hypnotics, tricyclic antidepressants and some antihistamines. Alcohol compounds the effects of such drugs and their effect on physical and mental activity.
If you suspect drowsy driving was a factor when someone hit you or a loved one, call Bill Coats Law. You are welcome to set up a free consultation where we can discuss the details of your case and offer some thoughts on the best ways to find you the compensation you deserve.