How often does it feel like there just aren’t enough hours in the day? The frantic pace of modern life sometimes seems to devour every moment, leaving limited time for sleep. As a result, more and more drivers are embarking upon their morning commute or nighttime drive sleepy and distracted. We all know the dangers of drowsy drivers, but few people realize that this problem has grown to devastating proportions on America’s roadways.
Recent studies have revealed some disturbing numbers. The National Sleep Foundation estimates that 36% of drivers have either driven drowsy or fallen asleep behind the wheel. The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute has found that fatigue was a contributing factor in 20% of all car crashes. The Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration claims that 13% of commercial vehicle operators involved in a crash were drowsy at the time. These percentages imply a shocking 100,000 drowsy-driving accidents each year resulting in $12.5 billion in damages, 71,000 injuries, and 1,550 deaths.
Lack of sleep creates one of the most dangerous driving situations imaginable. Drowsiness impairs all of the mental facilities required to operate a vehicle safely, including memory, alertness, cognitive function, and reaction time. A person who has been awake for 24 hours drives comparably to someone with a BAC of .10, well over the legal limit. The sheer speed at which an accident happens renders an impaired driver all but helpless to protect themselves or anyone else.
Despite these disturbing statistics Virginia has not yet implemented criminal statutes addressing this issue. The federal government does have rules in place governing commercial drivers that prevent them from being on the road for too long, helping prevent the devastation that can result from a sleepy driver behind the wheel of a 26,000 pound truck.
Part of the difficulty with drowsy driving is proving it after the accident. Unlike alcohol, sleepiness leaves no tell-tale trace in the blood. Sleep is a natural state, and often only the driver themselves knows if they were beginning to nod off before the accident. Sometimes eyewitness testimony from passengers in the car or other drivers can help establish drowsy driving, but the lack of any potential for hard evidence will continue to hamper investigations into these accidents.
The Department of Transportation offers these tips to avoid endangering others through drowsy driving:
??? Get enough sleep. At the end of the day, there is no substitute for a good night’s sleep.
??? Eat right. A good diet keeps you alert and focused.
??? Take a nap. Even a quick catnap can give you energy you need to make it home safely.
??? Avoid medication that can make you drowsy. These medications warn against driving, and you should never even consider ignoring that warning.
??? Recognize the signs. If you can’t stop your head from nodding, you’re too tired to drive.
??? Don’t count on tricks. The windows and the radio do not really keep you awake; only give a momentary illusion of alertness.
About the Author: Christopher J. Toepp is a Fredericksburg, VA personal injury lawyer dedicated to helping people who have been injured by the negligence of others. He is experienced in handling personal injury cases involving car crashes. Chris works in the Fredericksburg, Virginia office of Allen & Allen and serves clients across Northern Virginia and Central Virginia.
Learn more about fatigued driving by visiting the Allen and Allen website.