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Drowsy Driving: 5 Reasons Driving Without Enough Sleep Can Be as Dangerous as Drunk Driving

Drowsy Driving a Major Killer
Fatigue and Serious Accidents

One in five fatal car accidents is caused by drowsy drivers. Drowsy driving causes over 100,000 U.S. crashes a year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. An estimated 1,550 deaths and 71,000 injuries link back to drowsy driving in the U.S. every year.

Physicians believe that losing one night’s sleep impacts the human body as harshly as being legally drunk.

Sleep experts warn that one part of the human brain can be awake, giving the driver a sense of security, while another part of the brain is actually asleep. Sleep experts caution that nodding off, then jolting awake, perhaps through adrenaline, gives a false sense of security as the driver is likely to nod off again.

National Drowsy Driving Warning

Researchers found drivers who usually sleep less than 5 hours a night, who slept less than 7 hours in the last 24 hours, and drivers who slept 1 or more hours less than their usual amount of sleep in the last 24 hours pose a significantly elevated risk of causing a motor vehicle crash.

More than a third of drivers report having fallen asleep behind the wheel at some point in their lives, and more than one in ten has fallen asleep behind the wheel in the past year.

Drowsy Driving, AAA Foundation , December, 2016

All dangers from drowsy driving increased from previous research years earlier. The most alarming findings indicated drivers lacking adequate sleep drifted out of their lanes or off the road, and the drivers themselves often die in single-car crashes.

Drowsy Driving Accidents

The June, 2014 crash of a Wal-Mart truck into a car carrying Saturday Night Live comedian Tracy Morgan happened after the truck driver had been awake for over 24 hours. The New Jersey Turnpike collision seriously injured Morgan and killed his close friend.

Virginia Tech University freshman Nicole Lee was killed in a January, 2008 accident after she and her sister returned to campus after a full day of skiing. State Police eliminated alcohol and excessive speed as causes. Instead they believe the driver fell asleep at the wheel. There were no skid marks or other signs of braking. The vehicle slammed into a tree at full speed.

5 Reasons Drowsy Driving is as Bad or Worse than Drunk Driving

Sleep experts point out that like drunk driving, drowsy driving poses a serious threat to highway safety because fatigue causes drivers to suffer the following:

  1. Impaired reaction time, judgment and vision
  2. Problems with information processing and short-term memory
  3. Decreased performance, vigilance and motivation
  4. Increased moodiness and aggressive behaviors
  5. National Sleep Foundation

After an accident, it may not be as obvious that the offending driver was drowsy as it would be if the driver had been drinking. But, look for a lack of skid marks or other signs of any attempt to avoid the collision. Yawning, glazed eyes without an odor of alcohol, fumbling for objects and other outward signs also point to fatigue as a factor. A driver who crosses painted road markings and who weaves is likely distracted by drowsiness or another factor.

“Most people don’t realize that part of the brain can be asleep while another part of the brain is awake. So you may be able to keep your foot full throttle on the accelerator and even negotiate certain turns and yet not have the judgment area of the brain engaged.”

Charles Czeisler, M.D., Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, MA.

Insurance companies consider themselves duty bound to defend even the negligent driver. Therefore detecting and documenting such signs at the scene of an accident are critical.

Drowsy Driving in Court

The reason it’s important to document any sign of drowsiness or fatigue in the driver is that the law does not treat drowsy drivers well. In one case a Massachusetts court allowed a jury to infer negligence where there was testimony that a motor vehicle operator was aware that he was drowsy, but continued driving. In another case a finding of gross negligence followed a driver’s admission he was driving drowsy.

Between the other insurance company’s duty to defend their driver even when negligent, and the difficulty in detecting and proving drowsy driving, it’s obvious anyone injured in a serious highway accident should hire an experienced personal injury attorney.

After any accident here’s what you’re up against in the insurance claim process: click here.

We never clutter our blog articles with footnotes. This keeps the blogs readable. Here are our sources:

Crash Risk and Lack of Sleep, AAA Foundation, December, 2016.

Commonwealth v. Luna, 66 Mass. App. Ct. 1104 (2006).

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Attorney Myers is a member of the American Trial Lawyers Association, Massachusetts Academy of Trial Lawyers, and New Hampshire Trial Lawyers Association. The Law Offices of Andrew D. Myers offer a broad range of legal services in personal injury cases in Massachusetts (MA) and New Hampshire (NH) areas.

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