Everyone knows the best practices when it comes to avoiding serious car accidents. We have been educated about the dangers of drunk driving or driving while intoxicated, and laws have been passed making these very serious offenses. Even distracted driving has been brought to the public’s attention of late, with some states passing laws to try to curtail the behavior.
There is another type of driving that is just as prevalent and just as dangerous, and which happens every day on our roadways. It is likely that you have even done it at some point, probably without giving it much thought.
The practice of drowsy driving is exactly as it sounds—driving while tired, or while being sleep deprived. The frightening thing about this practice is that many of us consider it normal. We are on alert not to get behind the wheel after drinking five beers, but we do not stop and give thought to how tired we are or how little sleep we have had before we drive.
Drunk driving is something we tend to think that irresponsible people do. We often think of those who go about their daily lives lacking sleep as being “hard working,” or “tireless.” We give compliments to those who do not let sleep deprivation stop them from being productive.
A 2005 study found that 60% of people had driven when feeling drowsy and 37% had actually fallen asleep behind the wheel. A 2014 study by the American Automobile Association (AAA) found that 21% of fatal crashes involved drowsy drivers. That study found that the risk of a crash increases dramatically with even two hours of sleep loss.
Despite these figure, accurate numbers are hard to come by. There is no test for being drowsy that can be given at accident scenes, the way breath is tested at a DUI scene. Many law enforcement agencies do not even ask about sleep patterns at the scene of a crash. Self reporting is unreliable, and subjective; we often do not feel impaired or drowsy when we are.
Drowsy Driving Can be as Dangerous as Drunk Driving
The stigma for drowsy driving and drunk driving should be the same because their effects on driving have been found to be the same. Research shows that being awake for 18 hours is the same as having a blood alcohol level (BAL) of .05, dangerously close to Florida’s .08 legal limit before someone is considered to be driving intoxicated. That number jumps to .10 if the driver has not had sleep in 24 hours.
Few Laws Help the problem
There is little regulation on the books to stop drowsy driving. The only laws relate to truckers, who have limitations on how long they can drive for uninterrupted periods without rest. Truck drivers can only drive 60 hours over seven days or 70 hours over eight days of work per week. Drivers must be given 30-minute breaks every eight hours.
To make sure trucking companies are complying with these laws, trucks are required to be equipped with electronic monitoring devices that track the activity of the engine and the motion of the truck. After a trucking accident, that data can be mined to see how long the driver has been on the road.
Even those limitations will not stop drowsy driving because people get tired at different times and based on different factors, such as stress, medications, etc.
In fact, comedian Tracy Morgan was severely disabled in an accident involving a trucker who was just approaching, but who had not exceeded, the federal limit on consecutive driving hours. That driver had driven 800 miles from Georgia to Delaware and was attempting to drive even more when the accident occurred. He had been awake for more than 28 hours straight.
Other industries that involve driving, such as cab drivers, have no such legal restrictions. Most workplaces do not have established fatigue awareness programs. In fact, many encourage drivers to stay on the roads as long as possible. With the increasing popularity of services like Uber, and the need for more people to work multiple jobs or additional work shifts, the number of people driving tired on the roads will likely increase.
Accidents can be Catastrophic
In many ways, drowsy driving can be even more dangerous than drunk driving. Drunk drivers have clearly impaired reaction times and senses, and certainly, drivers with too little sleep exhibit the same driving patterns. But drivers who outright fall asleep at the wheel create a particularly serious danger.
Drivers who fall asleep at the wheel usually will take no evasive action. They will not swerve, slow their speed or hit the brakes. Cars will often veer into opposing traffic leading to head-on collisions. Accident scenes will often reveal no brake marks on the road. The result is often impact at full speed.
Be Aware of Sleep Issues
Experts want Americans to be aware of sleep patterns before driving. Remember that:
- Lack of sleep can lead to a “sleep debt” that needs to be “repaid” with additional sleep.
- Sleep is not a luxury but a necessity.
- If you are regularly tired even though it seems like you are getting enough sleep, there may be another cause. Drowsiness can be caused by sleep disorders or medications.
Teenagers can be prone to driving without sleep. Social outings or all-night study binges followed by early driving can lead to problems on the road. One study demonstrated that 55% of drowsy driving accidents involved drivers under the age of 25.
Parents should look for other signs of drowsiness in their kids before letting them drive. Moodiness, aggression, and declines in attention span could all be signs that your child (or anybody in your household) should wait before getting behind the wheel.
If you are injured as a result of a car accident, you must investigate every possible cause. Contact Brill & Rinaldi today about a free consultation to discuss whether the other driver may have been impaired behind the wheel.