Stories about drunk driving and the tragedy that can result from it seem to be daily news. We see accounts of these incidents splashed across the front page of local newspapers or hear reports of them on the news during the dinner hour. There are several national, state, and local organizations that are set up specifically to try to prevent drunk driving accidents through raising awareness and getting politicians to enact legislation, and rightly so because the number of deaths and injuries from these accidents is tremendous. What seems to not get as much attention, but can be just is lethal, is driving while overly tired. The biggest risk factor with this is that not everyone who drives drinks alcohol, but everyone who drives does require sleep. Not getting enough happens to everyone, and I am sure that all drivers have experienced episodes of exhaustion while driving at some point or another. This means that every driver has the potential to hurt or kill someone by operating a vehicle when tired. Sleepiness impairs your ability to drive safely just as much as being drunk or being under the influence of drugs. Most people, however, do not take this into account before getting behind the wheel because they don’t perceive the risk the as being the same. After all, you make the choice to drink or take drugs; you don’t just decide to get tired.
Although there is not nearly as much emphasis on drowsy driving as there is on drunk driving, there are some organizations which compile statistics regarding drowsy driving and work toward reducing the number of incidents it causes. One such group is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). According to a report published by the NHTSA in 2011, a study that was conducted from 2005 through 2009 showed that there were over 400,000 accidents that occurred as the result of motorists driving when tired. Of this number, almost 4,500 people were killed and 184,000 suffered injuries. Although these are the greatest costs associated with drowsy driving from a humanistic standpoint, these occurrences also resulted in nearly a quarter of a million incidents of property damage. Another institution that monitors the effects that drowsy driving have on drivers is the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). They conducted a poll in 2005 in which roughly 168,000,000 people stated that they had driven in the previous year while admittedly being tired. Of those polled, 103,000,000 confessed to literally falling asleep while driving, and nearly 7,000,000 admitted to having had an accident or nearly so because of dozing off while driving.
There are innumerable factors which lead to the sleep deprivation. Sleep disorders such as apnea can be one culprit, and sometimes the method for treating sleep issues can also be a contributing factor. Just like with some other prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs, sleep aids can produce a “hang-over” like effect resulting in continued sleepiness even after someone has slept for several hours. Working an off-shift or varying shifts can also be a huge cause for sleep deprivation. It can sometimes be difficult for someone who works an off-shift to reconcile other responsibilities with non-standard work hours. For example, someone who works until midnight may not be able to go right to sleep once they get home, but still has to get the kids up and to school in the morning. Those whose working hours change every so often may have an even more difficult time adjusting due to having an irregular schedule.
Truck drivers are one group that frequently has to contend with odd or frequently interrupted sleep schedules. Although there are stringent guidelines which they must follow regarding how many hours they can work and how much time they are supposed to take off between shifts, this can have a negative impact upon their income and the success of trucking companies. Consequently, even though these drivers are required to maintain log books, they are often not recorded accurately by the drivers in an attempt to stay on the road. One possible solution to this problem that is being considered is implementing the use of electronic log books. Those drivers who have embarked upon a long road trip are also at risk for drowsy driving events. With long, uninteresting highways and cruise control maintaining a constant speed, the lack of something to maintain one’s interest for an extended period of time can result in boredom. This is especially true for those drivers who are traveling alone. Late night (after midnight), early morning (4:00 a.m. until 6:00 a.m.), and mid-afternoon (2:00 p.m. until 4:00 p.m.) driving are the most common times during the day when accidents or near-accidents occur due to drowsy driving.
Despite efforts by groups such as the NHTSA and NSF to accurately track the number of accidents that are associated with drowsy driving, it is a nearly impossible task. Many times accidents are attributed to other causes such as distracted driving, drug or alcohol impairment, or carelessness. The NSF poll bears this out by stating that many of the drivers who participated claimed that being drowsy resulted in them becoming stressed, impatient, or driving faster. All three of these responses to sleepiness can cause a driver to end up in a crash. It is therefore, easy to understand how police officers can readily mistake one of these other issues as the cause of an accident instead of properly identifying it as a case of drowsy driving. Without tools such as a breathalyzer test, a field sobriety test, or a search of the driver’s cell phone records, police officers lack the ability to accurately discern whether or not someone fell asleep while driving. Even if the driver appears sleepy, there is no concrete means by which a cop can accurately guess whether nor not that person was tired enough to have caused the accident. As such, there is one tool that is useful in every situation and that is education. The lack of discussion about the dangers of drowsy driving is probably why so few people recognize it for the hazard that is it and the tragedy that it can cause. Adding the causes and effects of drowsy driving to the syllabus of every driver’s education class can only reduce the number of injuries and deaths that result from this seldom-discussed problem. These incidents may not occur with the same frequently as those of driving under the influence, but the ripple effect of the lives that it touches is unimaginable.
Weaving in and out of traffic, not maintaining your lane, or other such actions that can occur from drowsy driving can result in a reckless or careless driving charge. Although careless driving is a misdemeanor offense that results in a fine, reckless driving is a much more serious offense. If you are accused of reckless driving that causes an injury to someone, you can be charged with a felony. The ensuing penalties for either of these charges can impact your life for quite some time. Driving when you are exhausted is just not worth the risk of fines, insurance rate hikes, and a possible criminal record if you nod off and accidentally hurt someone. Living with those issues would be difficult enough, but would pale in comparison to having to live with the fact that you hurt or killed someone because you fell asleep when driving. If you are having difficulty staying focused on the road, pull over to a secure area, lock your doors, and grab a quick nap. If you do get a ticket for careless or reckless driving because of your lack of sleep, give us a call at 967-954-9888 and allow us to guide you on how best to handle your traffic ticket. As always, our consultation is free.