Fatigued or drowsy driving is a prevalent and dangerous problem in the United States. Do you recall ever getting behind the wheel while tired, or have you ever nodded off at a traffic light? If so, you’re not alone. According to the Sleep Foundation, 60 percent of adults have gotten behind the wheel in the United States while feeling drowsy or tired. Worse, one third of U.S. drivers have actually fallen asleep at one point while driving. You might think you can keep yourself up while driving and drowsy, but the reality is: your body will eventually take control over your mind: you can’t stay awake forever. No amount of food, no matter how high your music, no matter how much cold air you blast, your body will succumb. Driving while drowsy is very dangerous. There is great potential of you hurting or killing yourself and hurting or killing someone else.
Driving Drowsy v. Driving Drunk
Driving while drowsy, driving while fatigued, driving and falling asleep… these are terms best understood as the operation of a vehicle by a person who is drowsy, tired, or sleepy, and in doing so, the driver is operating the vehicle as though impaired. This language may sound familiar. It should. Impaired driving is often reserved for drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Driving while drowsy is akin to driving while drunk. Just like drivers under the influence who think they are fine to drive, and then find out later that evening that they aren’t fine to driver, drivers operating a vehicle while drowsy are in no better physical condition to drive even though mentally you think you can stay awake.
In fact, sleep deprivation can have the same effects on your body as alcohol. According to the Sleep Foundation, if you are awake for 18 hours straight, your driving will be similar to that of a driver with a blood alcohol level (BAC) of .05. Recall that .08 BAC is considered drunk throughout the United States. If it’s been 24 hours since you last slept, then your driving abilities will be the same as a driver with a blood alcohol level of .10.
Both circumstances: driving drunk or driving drowsy, make if difficult for a driver to stay attentive to the road and reduce reflex time so that you can’t make a decision fast enough to prevent an accident.
There is a distinction between the two, however. Drunk drivers often drive slow so that they have more time to react to something in the road. Drowsy drivers often drive fast so that they can get to their destination sooner, but while driving fast, they can nod off unexpectedly. So, the probability of a drunk driver being able to react can, in this sense, be better than a drowsy driver, and that’s scary considering how many known fatalities and injuries are caused each year by drunk drivers. The same can’t be said with any kind of definitive answer for drowsy drivers because in many instances the driver, if he lives, may not recall what happened, i.e., he fell asleep, and there’s no test that can be used to determine if the driver fell asleep or not, like there is in the case of drunk drivers. Most often, the determination of a driver driving while sleepy is based on a self-assessment; no one else can know for sure or not unless there was a passenger awake at the time and witnessed it.
Drowsy Driving Risks
The risks are very real. The most current statistics published in 2017 by National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration indicate that in 2015, drowsy, asleep, fatigued factors for drivers and motorcycle riders contributed to 1,268 fatal crashes, or 2.6 percent of all fatal crashes throughout the United States, which is more than fatal crashes caused by going the wrong way on one direction traffic-way or on wrong side of road (2.2 percent) or making a wrong turn (2.0 percent). And these are only the cases where we know that drowsy driving was the initial cause or contributing factor in the accident.
Demographics of the Drowsy Driver
Drowsy driving affects three certain demographics due to their way of life, or in some cases, medical conditions. These demographics include:
- Young people. Younger drivers aged between 16 and 29 years old are disproportionately affected by drowsy sleeping.
- Shift workers. Shift workers whose sleep patterns can be unstable or are disrupted by working irregular hours or night shifts are also disproportionately affected by drowsy sleeping.
- Sleeping disorders. Persons who suffer from but have not been diagnosed with or treated for sleep apnea syndrome, narcolepsy, or any other sleep disorder, again, are disproportionately affected by drowsy sleeping.
Whether relevant or not, truck drivers are known to be at risk of drowsy driving because there is the idea that the sooner they get their job done the sooner (and more) they get paid. Thus, they try to drive longer hours without rest to get to their destination. With regard to truck drivers, though, there are laws now that make sleeping breaks mandatory. If they are followed or not by the truck driver is another issue.
Warning Signs of Drowsy Driving
If you are started driving while sleepy, or if you will be driving for long periods of time, be mindful of the following signs that you’re driving is getting close to impaired driving.
- If you can’t remember the last few miles you just drove, pull over.
- If you start drifting from lane to lane or hit a rumble stump, maybe it’s time to take a break.
- If you can’t stop yawning, you’re body is trying to tell you something important.
- If you find you are tailgating or failing to pay attention to traffic signs, definitely stop for a rest.
- If you can’t think straight or your mind keeps wondering, it’s time to get some shut-eye.
- If you can’t keep your eyes open or your head up, you have absolutely no right to be behind a wheel.
Tips to Help Keep You & Others Alive
Proper sleep is always the best means to alert driving. If you can’t get enough sleep, especially before driving at night or long hours, then attempt to commit to the following:
- Take frequent breaks to re-energize yourself. Stopping at least every 100 miles or 2 hours are good milestones.
- If possible, drive with someone else who will take turns with you behind the wheel.
- Avoid driving in the mid-afternoon or between midnight and 6 am. According to AAA, this is the time your body is most vulnerable to sleepiness.
- Don’t drive if you have had 1 drink of alcohol. Though your blood alcohol level will likely not be at the illegal mark, alcohol increases sleepiness.
Contact Krause & Kinsman Today
If you’re the victim of a driver who was driving while drowsy or fell asleep behind the wheel in Kansas City, Missouri, you need legal assistance. Determining liability in these kinds of auto collisions can be complicated. At Krause & Kinsman, our skilled car accident legal team in Kansas City knows how to fully investigate the circumstances surrounding your situation. We act aggressively so that you will receive the compensation you rightfully deserve according to Missouri law.
Adam Krause is a personal injury, mass tort, business litigation, and employment discrimination attorney who practices in Kansas City, Missouri. He graduated from the University of Missouri Kansas City School of Law and has been practicing law for several years now. Adam Krause has made a career of taking complicated litigation and presenting it in the most elementary terms for a jury of your peers to understand. Learn more about his experience here.