Steven Bagen | August 1, 2022 | Car Accidents
Far too many drivers get behind the wheel while fatigued. Their actions result in severe injuries and even death to innocent people. Read on to learn more about fatigued drivers and auto accident injury claims from our experienced car accident lawyers.
Is Car Driver Fatigue Really a Serious Problem?
Driver fatigue or drowsy driving is a significant problem in the United States today, leading to preventable injuries and deaths. Fatigue doesn’t receive the same attention as intoxicated driving but causes similar impairments.
Consider the following:
- Approximately 27 percent of drivers report driving while they have trouble keeping their eyes open
- One in 25 drivers admits to falling asleep behind the wheel
- Nearly half of the drivers who have nodded off while driving did so on a trip with a duration of one hour or less
Why Do Drivers Get Drowsy?
Sleep is essential to human survival.
The human body needs rest so much that at some point, the brain will put itself to sleep if the body won’t provide the right conditions to sleep intentionally. So someone can resist as much as they want to sleep, it doesn’t even matter what they are doing at the time, but their brain will cause them to go to sleep.
Many factors can cause someone to feel drowsy, including:
The Body’s Clock
Everyone’s body has an internal clock that tells the brain when they should go to sleep and when they should wake up. This “clock” is in your brain, above where the nerves innervate the eyes. It controls the body’s “circadian rhythms,” which control alertness, body temperature, and many hormones. These circadian rhythms are responsible for making people feel awake or tired at the same time every day.
Hours of Alertness
The longer the human body is awake, the more it needs sleep. Even though adults typically need about seven or eight hours of sleep each day, everyone has their own needs and pattern to feel well rested. If someone doesn’t get enough sleep, their body has a debt that will continue to grow until they get the sleep they need. The more hours of sleep a person misses, the more difficult it is for them to think clearly and perform tasks as well as they usually might, including driving.
Levels of alertness and performance decrease without enough sleep. People react and make decisions more slowly. It’s much harder to pay attention to what you do. Coordination and memory are also weaker if someone is sleepy.
Unfortunately, some drowsy people often don’t even realize their condition, which makes drowsiness much more dangerous. Recent studies show that the effects of being drowsy are very similar to those of consuming alcohol.
Losing just a couple of hours of sleep every night can have a cumulative impact and impair your ability to drive, just as if you had consumed too much alcohol to get behind the wheel.
It may come as no surprise to most people that sleep surveys show that many adults do not get enough sleep to feel well-rested. This results in some drivers being drowsy nearly every time they get behind a vehicle’s wheel. Others may drive drowsy only at specific times, such as driving home from a night shift. Either way, the results can be life-changing and deadly.
At-Risk Groups for Drowsy Driving
All drivers are at risk of drowsy driving, but it affects some groups of motorists more than others. Motorists that are at a higher risk of drowsy driving include:
Younger, Inexperienced Drivers
Teens and other young and inexperienced drivers have had less time behind the wheel, causing them to lack some developed skills. In addition, younger drivers are more likely to drive during late hours due to employment or social reasons, which makes them more vulnerable to drowsy driving.
Young Male Drivers
Men are more likely to fall asleep at the wheel than women. Drivers are more likely to nod off because of their behavior choices or lifestyle.
Typically, young men are often more likely to make choices that fatigue them, such as:
- Working long hours
- Staying up late
- Drinking alcohol
Drowsy individuals are also more likely to engage in high-risk behavior while driving, such as trying to make it through a yellow light or not completely stopping at a stop sign. Statistically, young men participate in increased amounts of risk-taking behavior.
Shift Workers and Those with Extended Hours
Shift and night workers are frequently subject to many long work hours. It only makes sense that when it comes time to clock out, they are generally exhausted and more than ready for bed. A long drive home is the last thing they need, though many workers still routinely get into their cars to go home. Those who work night, double, or rotating shifts are at a much higher risk of drowsy driving than other workers. Doctors, nurses, pilots, police officers, firefighters, and other respected professionals often work grueling shifts.
Driving a large commercial truck for a living puts more miles on the road than the average commuter. These drivers risk drowsy driving due to their long work hours and strict deadlines.
Business travelers are at an increased risk of drowsy driving since they are frequently subjected to jet lag and changing time zones. With extensive work travel, getting enough sleep to remain safe behind the wheel presents continual challenges.
Individuals with Medical Sleep Conditions
Unfortunately, drowsy driving can be a daily battle for drivers with sleep disorders. Insomnia and narcolepsy can leave some motorists feeling depleted and tired during the day. Those with undiagnosed/untreated obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) are more at risk of drowsy driving.
Over 12 million people in the United States have OSA. Studies reveal that this condition substantially increases the rate of crashes resulting from fatigued driving. Some prescription and over-the-counter medications can also be counter-effective, making people sleepy when they need to remain focused on the road.
Drivers On Certain Medications
Many medications found over-the-counter or purchased with a prescription can cause mild to extreme drowsiness. However, most of these medications have warning labels that alert the user to these side effects. These medications can significantly impair even a well-rested driver as they navigate their vehicle behind the wheel.
Examples of medications that might cause drowsiness or fatigue while driving are:
- Sleeping pills
- Narcotic pain pills
- Some antidepressants
- Some high blood-pressure pills
- Some antihistamines (used for allergies)
- Cold or cough tablets/liquids
- Muscle relaxants
Drivers Under the Influence of Alcohol
We all know that the use of alcohol alone can result in a severe motor vehicle accident. Alcohol naturally causes people to feel sleepy and decreases their reaction time. However, the hazards grow exponentially if alcohol mixes with extreme fatigue. This has far worse effects than either alcohol or drowsiness alone. As a result, mental and physical alertness significantly decreases, making the driver more likely to swerve or drift off the road.
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Drowsy Driving Compared To Drunk Driving
Though not the same, drowsy and drunk driving are similar and, somewhat surprisingly, equally dangerous. Both conditions reduce reaction times and negatively impact decision-making and alertness. Controlled studies show that drunk and drowsy driving both cause a similar amount of motor vehicle accidents.
Alcohol impairment causes:
- Vision problems
- Altered depth perception
- Decreased ability to judge speed
Often, drunk drivers are uninhibited, impulsive, and overly confident, which causes them to participate in risky driving behaviors. On the other hand, drowsiness primarily impacts our ability to stay vigilant while driving and respond appropriately to the current road and traffic conditions.
After around 18 hours of being awake, the effects on reaction time, multi-tasking, vigilance, and hand-eye coordination are comparable to having a blood alcohol content of 0.05 percent. However, after 20 hours without sleep, motorists are as impaired as if they had a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent the current legal limit in most states. After 24 hours of no sleep, a driver’s impairment corresponds to a blood alcohol content of 0.1 percent.
Studies establish that even short-term and mild sleep deprivation can cause risky impairments to a motorist’s driving skills and abilities. One study shows that between six and seven hours of sleep a night doubled the risk of being involved in an accident, while under five hours of sleep doubled it again.
Common Characteristics of Fatigued Driving Accidents
While fatigued driving accidents can happen any time of the day or night on any road or at any intersection, there are some commonalities that most drowsy driving accidents share.
Late Night and Mid-day
Most accidents resulting from drowsy driving happen from midnight to 8:00 a.m. Considering that it’s most natural for the body to go to sleep when it is dark outside, it’s difficult for motorists to fight off the brain’s drive to sleep when it’s dark at night.
Your circadian rhythm can make you sleepy in the middle of the day, causing an increase in motor vehicle accidents from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. Even if a driver has enough rest, their body naturally becomes sleepy mid-afternoon and at night. Those who must drive during these times should ensure they get plenty of sleep before getting behind the wheel.
The majority of drowsy-driving accidents involve someone driving alone. A motorist without any passengers has no one to talk to who can help keep them alert and safe on the road. Passengers in a vehicle will often notice if their driver seems drowsy and take action. Driving alone also means no one else to help with the driving. Driving together makes it possible to take turns behind the wheel.
No Attempt to Prevent the Crash
Most crashes linked to drowsy driving show that the driver didn’t do anything to prevent the accident. For example, the absence of skid marks at the scene reveals that the driver likely didn’t hit their brakes to stop in time. Witnesses to the crash report that the vehicle’s brake lights didn’t come on and that the driver didn’t try to swerve out of the way.
A sleepy driver typically cannot react to problems in time. Their eyes may even be closed, preventing them from seeing what is about to happen sometimes leading to a terrible crash. Sadly, a high rate of fatigued-driving crashes results in fatalities.
Highways and Rural Roads
Drowsy driving crashes are more common on rural roads and highways. Perhaps this is because it’s where driving becomes more mundane than driving in town, as there are not as many signs, lights, or intersections that drivers need to watch. They know they are traveling in the same direction on a long stretch of road, like putting their brain on auto-pilot, with less stimulation putting them at more risk of wanting to sleep.
Did a Drowsy Driver Cause Your Accident?
There is no excuse for drowsy driving. Motorists are responsible for getting enough sleep at night, avoiding medications that can affect their driving, and getting off the road if they feel fatigued. Sadly, some drivers don’t take responsibility for keeping others safe.
If you believe a drowsy driver caused your accident, contact an experienced car accident attorney today. Your attorney can thoroughly investigate the accident to determine what might have caused it and which parties should be held liable. With legal representation, you can maximize the compensation you deserve.