The Dangers of Drowsy Driving
Sleepy adults behind the wheel of any motorized vehicle endanger us all. And yet many of us have been in situations where we needed to make one particular drive when our eyelids were heavy. We all know that doing so does not excuse our lack of responsibility, but the point is this: getting behind the wheel when we should be in bed is not a rare occurrence. The numbers, which we provide below, might take you aback.
In the eyes of the law, “driving while sleepy” can be considered negligent behavior. If a drowsy driver crashed into you and caused injury, they could be considered at fault under the law. In such a situation, you might have a personal injury suit.
Sleep (and the Lack of it) by the Numbers
According to the numbers, many of us have admitted to DWS (driving while sleepy), even those of us who sport the safest driving records. Every year, the National Sleep Foundation conducts a “Sleep in America” poll. In a recent poll, 60 percent of U.S. drivers admitted that they had gotten behind the wheel while sleepy, and 37 percent said that they had fallen asleep while driving in the previous year. In other statistical findings, nearly 30 percent of drivers have admitted that at some point during the previous 30 days they drove when they could barely keep their eyes open. Nearly 20 percent said they had done it more than once.
It added up to 41,000 injuries and 800 deaths. However, the broader safety community has reached a consensus that consists of much higher numbers. Their best estimate is that 16.5 percent of all deadly crashes (7 percent of all crashes) involve a drowsy driver. Such an estimate would translate into roughly 6,000 deaths in DWS accidents and around $109 billion in costs to our society.
But wrecks caused by drowsy driving are not often tracked statistically; therefore, it is difficult to definitively ascribe crashes to DWS. One of the few known local drowsy driving crashes occurred during August, 2008, on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. A three-vehicle fatal accident resulted when a nineteen-year-old fell asleep, causing a truck driver to plunge off the bridge to his death in an effort to escape the crash.
Only two states currently have laws that can cite drivers specifically for drowsy driving: Arkansas and New Jersey. However, Maryland does train its police officers to recognize fatigued driving.
Who Is at Risk of Drowsy Driving?
Drowsy driving can happen for many reasons. It’s no secret that we, as a country, are often sleep-deprived, so you probably wouldn’t be surprised to discover that getting less than seven hours of sleep a night is a risk factor. But other situations can also cause drowsy driving that you might not be aware of:
- Driving while under the influence of medication, even over-the-counter drugs. Some antihistamines (allergy and cold drugs), for example, have a powerful sedating effect.
- Driving under the influence of alcohol, even a small amount, can make a sleepy person even sleepier.
- Driving after working all night. Shift work negatively affects our body clocks, making us more likely to fall asleep at inappropriate times. Shift work sleep disorder can cause excessive sleepiness during the day.
- Being under 30, and especially being male. This age group is most likely to have drowsy driving crashes. According to the NHTSA, drivers under 30 were responsible for nearly two-thirds of drowsy driving crashes, even though the under-30 group represented only one-fourth of all licensed drivers. Additionally, teenagers can experience delayed sleep phase syndrome, meaning they need to sleep later in the morning. However, because of school and work, they are usually not able to do so, creating an ongoing situation of fatigue.
- Undiagnosed or untreated sleep disorders such as narcolepsy and obstructive sleep apnea. These persons have a higher risk of drowsy driving crashes.
Other reasons for drowsy driving crashes can include driving too long without taking a break, especially on monotonous roads. Older drivers are especially vulnerable to mid-afternoon sleepiness because they may not be sleeping as well at night due to age.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that going without sleep for 24 hours is the same as having a blood alcohol content level of 0.10. A BAC of 0.08 is considered legally drunk in all 50 states. Driving while sleepy has the same effect as driving under the influence of alcohol.
What Are the Warning Signs You Are Falling Asleep?
Do you have trouble determining that you are about to fall asleep? Some of the warning signs that you are driving while drowsy are:
- Yawning and rubbing your eyes
- Blinking frequently or having difficulty focusing your eyes
- Disconnected thoughts, not remembering the last few miles you’ve driven, or missing exits
- Trouble keeping your head erect
- Drifting out of your lane and running over rumble strips.
If you exhibit these signs and believe you are in danger of drifting off behind the wheel, stop driving right away. Pull over at a safe-looking rest area and take a nap. If you simply cannot nap, ask someone else to drive or, if you are alone, take a break and consume some caffeine. Sometimes opening the window or playing the radio is effective, but these measures generally work only for a short time.
Were you injured by a drowsy driver? We’re listening. How can we help you?
The aftermath of a vehicle collision can be life-changing for the accident victims and their family, and often takes years of patience and dedication to overcome. If you believe another party was responsible for the injuries or losses you have suffered in a car crash in Maryland, Steven Heisler has the experience necessary to successfully help accident victims get their lives back on track. With a positive track record and an approachable manner, Steve can provide more than legal representation, but also reliable guidance to help you make the best choices for your circumstances.
At the Law Offices of Steven H. Heisler, we have devoted our practice to defending the rights of personal injury victims. Keep in mind that there is a statute of limitations – or a time limit – for filing personal injury claims. If you have been injured in an accident, you should not delay. Contact us today for a free initial consultation by calling (410) 625-4878, or use our online form.