How Common is Driving While Fatigued?

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There is an alarming number of people who get behind the wheel of a car when they are struggling to stay awake, according to a recent study by a professional sleep study organization. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) conducted an online study of approximately 2,000 people. The survey found that of those questioned, 905 people, or 45 percent, said that they have attempted to drive while drowsy. In contrast, there were 957 people, or 48 percent, who said that they had not driven while they were drowsy. Although more participants claimed not to have attempted to drive while tired, there is still an alarming number of people who say they drive while drowsy.

Of the participants in the survey, of those who said they drove drowsy, 50 percent were men, whereas only 41 percent were women. In addition, those in Generation Z, which are drivers between the ages of 18 and 22, were the least likely to drive drowsy, with only 62 people or 38 percent. Generation X, those born between 1965 and 1980, was the group most likely to drive tired, with 301 people or 48 percent of those who responded to the survey.

The study comes a few weeks before the Thanksgiving holiday, when millions will be on the road to visit their family. Some individuals might be traveling overnight to get to loved ones and could run the risk of driving when they should be resting. The AASM released the study as a warning to drivers.

The AASM is a professional society dedicated to the medical subspecialty of sleep medicine. The goal of the organization is to promote awareness about sleep disorders and to advocate for research and medication. The group consists of 11,000 accredited member sleep centers and individual members, including physicians, scientists, and other health care professionals.

The Dangers of Drowsy Driving

Drowsy driving can be as dangerous if not more so than other forms of distracted or impaired driving, including driving under the influence. Every year, there are at least 100,000 motor vehicle crashes related to drowsy driving and more than 1,500 deaths, according to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Approximately 71,000 drowsy-related crashes involve non-fatal injuries, and the costs of these crashes on an annual basis is about $12.5 billion.

A drowsy driver is severely impaired when they get behind the wheel. Their reaction time is greatly reduced, as is their attention. They are fighting with themselves to stay awake and may not be paying attention to the road in front of them. The occasional nodding off could cause a driver to drift into another lane and then abruptly swerve to return to their original lane. Any one of these actions could have an adverse impact on drivers around them.

Signs of Drowsy Driving

Before getting into a car to drive, people must look for several potential signs that they might not be in any condition to operate a motor vehicle. They need to take these signs seriously, just as seriously as if they were otherwise impaired. Some of those signs include the following:

  • Yawning
  • Inability to keep eyes open
  • Nodding off
  • Forgetting parts of the drive
  • Missing road signs
  • Following too close to cars
  • Drifting into other lanes
  • Driving onto the rumble strip

Drivers who experience any of these symptoms should immediately pull over and find a place to rest for a while before they are ready to resume traveling. If possible, they should let someone else drive who is more awake.

When Do Most Drowsy Driving Accidents Occur?

Given the nature of the underlying cause of the accidents, most drowsy driving accidents take place either late at night or early in the morning. They usually happen when people are on the road when they should be in bed. However, some people start to grow fatigued by the middle of the day. There is an increase in drowsy driving accidents with older men in the later hours of the afternoon.

Most accidents take place on highways, given the repetitive and sometimes monotonous nature of that type of driving. In general, more accidents tend to occur at higher speeds, although there has been some evidence of drowsy driving accidents taking place at slower speeds.

Truck drivers and other commercial vehicle drivers are sometimes those most guilty of driving drowsy. Most truck drivers have deliveries to make and deadlines to reach, so they might push themselves to drive through the night to make a deadline.

Federal regulations mandate that drivers get a certain amount of rest based on the number of hours they spend on the road. However, some employers encourage their drivers to disregard those parameters, whereas other drivers just ignore the regulations to keep on schedule.

Truck drivers are not the only motorists who run the risk of getting behind the wheel when they are too tired to do so. The average person may also push themselves beyond their limitations. In these cases, they are often up later than usual or wake up earlier than normal and are out on the road. The reason for doing this varies, but the danger is the same.

How to Prevent Drowsy Driving

There are steps a driver can do to prevent driving while fatigued. In many cases, it involves knowing when a person plans to drive and making adequate plans beforehand. Some steps to take include these suggestions:

  • Get enough sleep. Before going out on the road, the person who plans to be the driver should block out enough time so that they get themselves a good night’s sleep. The AASM suggests that adults sleep approximately seven to eight hours per night.
  • Avoid late night driving. When planning a long trip that consists of multiple days of driving, the motorist should plan a realistic schedule that does not allow for late night driving and allows for plenty of time for sleep. If the driver is traveling with another person, the two can trade driving responsibilities while the passenger sleeps.
  • Utilize rest stops. While driving, if a person is beginning to show any signs of feeling drowsy, they should pull over at the nearest rest stop to rest. Sometimes a quick nap helps, but in some cases longer sleep might be required.
  • Ask for a ride after work. For those who find themselves working especially late into the evening, they might want to plan and arrange for a friend to pick them up once their shift is over. This prevents someone from having to drive late after a long day at work.
  • Caffeine does help. Consuming caffeine will provide a short-term boost if a person is feeling tired.

Taking these precautions ahead of time will greatly reduce a person’s chances of falling asleep behind the wheel and minimize their chances of getting into an accident. In most cases, commonsense techniques can mean all the difference.

Legal Ramifications of Drowsy Driving

There are only two states in the country that specifically outlaw drowsy driving, and Maryland is not one of them. Arkansas and New Jersey are the two states in which drowsy driving is against the law. However, drowsy driving is difficult to prove legally. Just because it is not illegal in Maryland does not mean that it is safe.

Police officers in Maryland are trained to spot fatigued driving. They can still pull a driver over if they believe the driver is a danger on the road. Although the motorist will not be charged with drowsy driving, there are several other violations the officer can charge the driver within that situation. Some of those charges can carry jail time with them, depending on the severity of the charge.

Although there are legal implications with driving when a person is too tired, there are also some financial consequences. There have been several multi-million-dollar lawsuits settled as a result of accidents caused by drowsy drivers. The lawsuits have been filed by family members of victims or by those who were in accidents with these impaired drivers. In some cases, the lawsuits targeted the companies that hired the driver who was drowsy behind the wheel.

Baltimore Car Accident Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Help Those Injured in Drowsy Driving Accidents

If you or a loved one was injured in an accident because of the actions of someone you suspect was drowsy behind the wheel, contact the Baltimore car accident lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton. We will assist you with every step of the claims process and ensure that your legal rights are protected throughout the entire process. Our dedicated team will determine who is responsible for causing the accident and secure the maximum financial compensation you deserve for your injuries. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.

Our offices are conveniently located in BaltimoreColumbiaGlen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent victims throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.