According to the United States Department of Transportation, every two hours, three people are killed in alcohol related accidents. While this and many other drunk driving statistics are shocking and most people realize the danger of drunk driving, there is another danger that is comparable to drunk driving that is not as widely recognized as a threat to motor safety. This is the danger posed by drowsy driving, which has been compared to drunk driving.
Federal regulators have stated that a person driving after being awake for over 24 hours is as impaired as a driver who drives with a blood alcohol content that is above the legal limit for intoxication in most states. A driver does not have to stay awake for 24 hours to be impaired however, even a shortfall of as little as two or three hours less of sleep than a driver should get in a night is enough to cause impairment. According to a report released in December 2016, with less than four hours of sleep, a driver becomes 12 times more likely to get into a car accident that could be fatal.
Drivers who work long hours, who have young children or babies at home, or who are driving at certain times of the day – early morning or late night, tend to be more likely to drive while tired. Drivers in certain professions, such as doctors, nurses, police officers, and those who work night shifts are also more prone to be sleep deprived. It is possible for drivers who do not get regular sleep to develop chronic sleep deprivation, which can cause medical issues and affect the brain and cognitive function.
Regulations to Counter Sleep Deprivation
Recognizing the danger a lack of sleep can pose on the roads, there are regulations in most states as well as federally requiring certain professional drivers, especially long haul truckers and other commercial drivers, to get some rest and sleep after driving a certain number of hours. These limitations on how long a driver works before getting rest are enforced through electronic tracking of the truck and the driver. When a drowsy truck driver causes an accident, the trucking company that employs the driver may also be liable for the driver’s accident, and be required to pay for the injured party’s medical bills and other costs arising out of the accident. Trucking companies who put requirements on their employees to drive beyond the safe hours and ignore the safety regulations, thereby putting other drivers and passengers at risk, can be found liable for additional damages if the driver causes an accident that injures or kills other drivers or passengers.
Signs of Drowsy Driving
Drivers do not always know that they are too tired to drive until they start experiencing some of the signs of drowsy or fatigued driving. These include:
- closing or heavy eyelids,
- trouble focusing and frequent blinking trying to regain focus,
- inability to remember the last few miles driven,
- swerving in between lanes or off the road,
- feeling irritable, and
- having disconnected thoughts.
Drivers experiencing these signs often have a reduced ability to react to road dangers, be aware of what is around them, and have impaired decision making ability. It can take just a few seconds for a tired driver to shut his eyes, swerve into the path of oncoming traffic and cause a fatal accident.
Coffee and other caffeinated substances are not an adequate substitute for sleep. It is possible for a driver to have developed a tolerance for caffeinated substances due to long term use, and so one cup of coffee may only provide a short term solution, while giving the driver a false sense of security. A driver who experiences the signs of drowsy driving should pull over immediately as soon as it is possible to do so and get some rest. When a driver falls asleep behind the wheel and causes an accident, the driver may be found negligent for causing the accident and found liable even if he did not know he was drowsy driving.
Liability Without a Test
A drowsy driver cannot be tested for impairment in the same way that a drunk driver or a driver impaired by drugs can be tested. However, there are other ways in which an accident can be attributed to a drowsy driver. Eye witness accounts of how a driver was behaving in the minutes before an accident, the driver’s admissions relating to his fatigue or lack of sleep, the lack of skid marks from the drowsy driver’s car, and even accident reconstruction are some ways in which an accident can be shown to have been caused by a drowsy driver. However, it may not be necessary to show that a driver was drowsy to get compensation, as long as it can be shown that the driver did something negligent and that negligent action caused an accident. For example, proving that a driver ran a red light or swerved off the road, and that these actions caused the accident with other drivers, may be sufficient for the other drivers to receive compensation for the accident without showing that the driver ran the light or swerved off the road due to fatigue or sleep deprivation.
There may be other factors that contribute to drowsy driving. In some cases, a driver could be affected because he is taking medication that causes him to become drowsy. The fact that the driver was drowsy due to taking prescription medication does not diminish the driver’s liability in causing an accident, although the drowsy driver may have a claim against his doctor for not warning him about the medication’s side effects. Other factors can include untreated sleep conditions, and intoxication from drinking alcohol.
Contact Us for Legal Assistance
If you suffered injuries or lost a loved one when a drowsy or fatigued driver negligently caused an accident, you may be able to receive compensation from the driver or the driver’s insurance company. For more information on how you can seek compensation, contact the dedicated Greenville, South Carolina car wreck attorneys at Bryan Ramey & Associates for a consultation today.