Drowsy drivers are one of the most significant traffic hazards affecting Americans and one of the most unrecognized dangers. While most of us would never think of getting behind the wheel while intoxicated, we all drive when we are tired. Our modern lives are busy with driving our children around, working long hours, irregular shifts, demanding school schedules, and not enough time to sleep. Commercial truckers, delivery drivers, and taxi drivers may all be pressured into working longer hours than their bodies can handle. Studies have shown that drowsy drivers can be just as impaired as drunk drivers.
Drivers who have been awake for 21 continuous hours show many of the same symptoms as drivers with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 percent. Drivers who have been awake this long suffer from reduced attentiveness, hindered decision-making, and dangerous micro-sleep incidents.
Although it is hard to assess how much of an epidemic drowsy driving is, it is suspected that driver fatigue plays a role in over 100,000 car accidents every year, injuring 71,000 people and resulting in at least 1,500 fatalities. Legislators in many states are beginning to take notice, and new laws are being adopted that take aim at drowsy drivers.
Although anyone can make the decision to get behind the wheel when they are tired, the National Sleep Foundation has identified certain people who may be at risk for falling asleep behind the wheel, including:
- Those taking sedating medications, including antihistamines and sleep aids
- People who work more than 60 hours per week
- Males under the age of 26
- Shift workers and people who work long hours, such as nurses
- Individuals who suffer from sleep disorders such as sleep apnea
- Long-haul truck drivers
- Anyone who has had less than six hours of sleep
What Causes Drowsy Driving?
There is no doubt in how dangerous falling asleep at the wheel can be. As many as 795 deaths were attributed to drowsy driving in 2017; and most experts agree that number is likely underestimated. Drowsy driving not only involves being sleep-deprived while operating an automobile, it also causes impaired judgment, slower reaction times, and it impairs your ability to focus. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimated that in 2013, drowsy driving was the cause of 72,000 crashes, 44,000 injuries, and more than 800 deaths.
What Contributes to Drowsy Driving?
There are many factors that contribute to drowsy driving, including:
- Late night or early morning shifts: Not obtaining enough sleep before your scheduled shift can lead to drowsy driving.
- Driving for hours at a time: Taking that long drive home may cause drowsiness, especially if you decide not to take any breaks.
- Being a frequent traveler: When you are a frequent traveler, your time zones tend to change, which can potentially have negative consequences on your ability to stay alert.
- Drivers who take medication: Certain medications, including over-the-counter medicines, may cause drowsiness.
- Drivers with sleep disorders: An undiagnosed sleep disorder may be fatal for those operating a vehicle.
- A new baby: Newborns tend to wake several times throughout the night, leaving parents sleep-deprived and exhausted for their drive to work.
When and Where Drowsy Driving Accidents Take Place
There are three common factors associated with accidents involving drowsy driving:
- Drowsy driving accidents typically happen to drivers who are alone. There are often no other passengers in the vehicle. There may also be no skid marks present on the road, and no evidence of braking.
- Drowsy driving accidents frequently occur on highways or in rural areas.
- They most often occur between midnight and 6 a.m., or late in the afternoon.
How to Prevent Drowsy Driving
The only sure way to prevent drowsy driving is to obtain an adequate amount of sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to eight hours of sleep per night. If that is not possible for the type of lifestyle you have, then a 30-minute nap before driving is recommended. Other ways to prevent falling asleep at the wheel include:
- Carpooling to your destination
- Driving with another passenger who is also a licensed driver
- Scheduling frequent breaks during long trips
- Pulling over on the side of the road when you feel tired
How an Experienced Car Accident Lawyer Can Help You Prove Drowsy Driving
Victims injured by drowsy drivers have legal recourse to be compensated for their injuries. However, it is often difficult to prove that someone fell asleep behind the wheel in a court of law. An experienced lawyer can establish how long an individual had been awake prior to getting behind the wheel, which may be powerful evidence if the driver had not slept in a significant amount of time. This can be done by tracking down and subpoenaing eyewitnesses, or relying on circumstantial evidence such as commercial trucking records, a person’s work schedule, or their cell phone records. Traffic cameras and vehicle data recorder technology can also be employed to prove negligence in many cases.
South Carolina Car Accident Lawyers at Chappell Smith & Arden, P.A. Fight for Victims of Drowsy Driving Car Wrecks
If you or a loved one has been injured in a wreck and suspect that the person at fault was overtired at the time or had fallen asleep behind the wheel, we can help. To schedule a consultation with one of the experienced Columbia car accident lawyers at Chappell Smith & Arden, P.A., call us today at 803-929-3600 or (803) 929-3600, or contact us online. With offices located in Columbia, Charleston, Rock Hill, Aiken, Florence, and Sumter, South Carolina, we provide representation to victims throughout the region including the towns of Columbia, Alken, Camden, Sumter, Orangeburg, Greenville, Florence, Beaufort, Irmo, Spartanburg, Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head Island, West Columbia, Rock Hill, Charleston, Lexington, Winnsboro, and Summerville.