Drowsy Driving Can Cause Serious Car Accidents and Injuries
Driving while tired might sound like it’s not dangerous. It may seem like a normal part of life in a world that expects us to be active 24/7. Between the constant demands of our mobile devices, the emphasis we place on careers and active lifestyles, and the long commutes many of take on every morning and evening, many people are not getting enough sleep. In fact, research from the CDC shows that one in 25 drivers admit that they have fallen asleep while driving, just in the last month. According to the American Sleep Foundation, about 60% of U.S. drivers admit to driving while feeling drowsy while another 37% admitted to actually falling asleep sometime in the last year while behind the wheel.
Drowsy driving is no joke and it injures or wrongfully kills thousands of Americans each year. If you or a loved one has been the victim of a car accident caused by a fatigued driver, you may be entitled to compensation for your damages. The Fort Myers auto accident attorneys at Viles & Beckman have handled thousands of car accident cases and have the experience and resources necessary to help you get justice.
What Causes Drowsy Driving?
The driver fatigue problem on American roafapds is shockingly common.
Ideally, healthy adults should sleep seven or more hours each night. However, more than a third of adults do not get enough sleep.
In 2014, 34.8 percent of Florida adults reported usually sleeping less than 7 hours in a 24-hour period. According to a study conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, drivers who got only five or six hours’ sleep in the prior 24 hours were just as dangerous as a driver with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent, which is the legal threshold for intoxication. They were also almost twice as likely to be involved in a crash than a driver who got seven or more hours’ sleep.
Many people are at risk of driver fatigue, whether they know it or not.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the drivers most at risk for drowsy driving are adults between 18 and 29 years of age; men; adults with children; and shift workers. Common causes of drowsiness and falling asleep include:
- More and more, workers are under pressure to work longer hours. They may work extended shifts or more than one job. Rest is simply a luxury they cannot afford, so they are chronically exhausted.
- Long-haul drivers are at risk. Despite regulations requiring rest breaks, drivers may be under pressure to keep driving and enter false information in the log. At least 15 percent of all heavy truck crashes involve fatigue.
- Everyone has a sleep/wake cycle, called a circadian rhythm. It is like an internal clock in your brain and cycles regularly between being asleep and awake. Therefore, our bodies are regulated to sleep at specific times. The brain’s “sleep” drive increases during the mid-afternoon and at night, so employees working long hours or shift workers are especially vulnerable.
- Most of us are constantly trying to balance the demands of work, family, and many other responsibilities. So we sleep less and suffer from chronic sleep deprivation.
- Sleep disorders also cause sleep deprivation. Many people do not realize that they suffer from disorders such as restless legs syndrome, sleep apnea, or narcolepsy that can cause extreme daytime sleepiness. Sleep disorders disrupt normal sleep, which leads to accumulated sleep debt. The prevalence of drowsy driving is higher among respondents reporting a sleep problem (41 percent) versus those without a problem (28 percent).
- Alcohol consumption and taking medications, both prescription and non-prescription, can cause drowsiness. They may also increase the degree of sleepiness stemming from any other cause.
More Information about a Major Cause of Drowsy Driving: Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is a general term that describes a serious sleep disorder; most people have obstructive sleep apnea which causes a person to repeatedly stop and start breathing while they are sleep. Specifically, sleep apnea causes your throat muscles to occasionally block your airway during sleep which can cause, among other very serious issues, one to wake up much more tired than they would otherwise.
Those who suffer from the drowsy-causing condition, or their partners, may notice:
- excessive daytime sleepiness,
- loud snoring,
- abruptly waking up in the middle of the night, possibly gasping or choking,
- dry mouth or sore throat,
- and a host of other issues that might be passed off as normal or related to something else.
Since sleep apnea causes abnormal or restricted breathing while sleeping, our brain senses this and briefly wakes you up. This quick awakening is usually so brief that most people don’t remember it, and thus don’t thing anything is wrong.
Studies have shown that those with sleep apnea could experience this choking and waking cycle 5 to 30 times and hour, every single night. These disruptions in restful sleep often manifests itself as feeling “sleepy” during the day time or like you can never get enough rest no matter how much you sleep.
Daytime fatigue and sleepiness is not so dangerous if one takes a train or subway to work, but in Fort Lauderdale, like most places in Florida, almost everyone drives to work or anywhere else they need to go. This severe daytime drowsiness, fatigue, and irritability is major contributor to falling asleep while driving. They may also be at higher risk of work-related accidents.
Why is Driver Fatigue Dangerous?
Insufficient sleep affects our cognitive processes in many ways, including driving skills and reduces a driver’s ability to drive safely. Fatigue may lead to:
- Delayed reaction times
- Poor attention and concentration
- Bad judgment when reacting to road or traffic conditions
- Slowed or decreased motor skills
- Blurry vision
- Agitation or impatience with other drivers
- Driving too slowly or too fast
- Intensify impairment caused by medication
- Drifting across lanes
- Rolling stops
Sometimes people are not even aware they are tired. In some cases, people experience micro-sleep, which is an uncontrollable sleep episode lasting anywhere from a fraction of a second up to 10 full seconds. This may not sound too bad, but at highway speeds, during a 4 or 5 seconds burst of micro-sleep, the vehicle can travel the length of a football field. Have you ever hit the rumble strip (that bumpy section on the side of the road) and not even noticed it until your car violently shook?
It is difficult to determine the number of accidents caused by driver fatigue. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) uses police and hospital reports to ascertain the incidence of drowsy driving accidents. NHTSA reports that an estimated 72,000 crashes happen in the United States each year because of fatigue. NHTSA says that drowsy driving causes 44,000 injuries and 800 deaths in the U.S. each year.
Those who study this problem, such as experts from traffic safety, sleep science, and public health groups, agree that these statistics probably underestimate the impact of driver fatigue. The National Sleep Foundation estimates that about 100,000 car crashes every year are related to drowsy driving. However, reports from the American Automobile Association, suggest that more than 300,000 accidents each year involve a drowsy driver, including 6,400 fatal accidents.
Legal Liability for Driver Fatigue
All drivers have a responsibility to drive with care and not endanger others. Driving while fatigued can be considered a breach of that duty of care. If you can establish that the other driver was negligent due to fatigue or other causes, they may be liable, and you may be eligible for compensation.
If a driver was sleepy and aware of feeling fatigued before getting behind the wheel, then it may be considered negligence. Essentially, negligence is a failure to use reasonable care. Reasonable care is simply defined as the way a prudent person would act in the same or a similar situation. There are four elements in a negligence claim. They are:
- The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty ;
- The defendant breached this duty owed to the plaintiff;
- The plaintiff was injured as a result; and
- The plaintiff incurred quantifiable damages.
In 2010, Florida passed the Ronshay Dugans Act. This act declared the first week of September as “Drowsy Driving Prevention Week.” The Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and the Department of Transportation wish to educate the community and public officials about the dangers of drowsy driving. Ronshay Dugans was an eight-year-old third-grade child who died from brain injuries when her school bus was hit by a cement truck. Sources reported that the truck driver had been drowsy and driving recklessly at the time of the collision.
Common Car Accident Injuries
Drowsy driving that leads to a motor vehicle crash can cause all kinds of serious injuries, from minor injuries to lifelong disability and even death. There is an enormous financial, and human cost to such injuries, and the victims deserve to be compensated. In general, there are some common types of injuries we see in people who have been the victims of auto collisions.
- Injuries to the back and neck, including whiplash
- Spinal injuries, which may leave the victim paralyzed
- Injuries to the head and brain, including concussions or other traumatic brain injuries
- Burn Injuries — serious burns may require skin grafts and result in permanent scarring.
- Soft Tissue Injuries — damaged muscles, tendons, or ligaments can be painful and slow to heal.
- Broken Bones
How Do You Prove Driver Fatigue in a Motor Vehicle Accident Case?
When a crash occurs, investigators are usually able to identify the driving errors which contributed to the accident, such as failing to obey traffic signals or drifting over the centerline.
However, drowsy driving cases are complicated. Unlike alcohol-related collisions, there are no blood, breath, or other measurable tests to determine someone’s level of sleepiness. Therefore, there is no easy way to tell if someone was too tired to drive. Drowsy driving cases are fact-intensive and may be difficult to prove. Jurors find themselves wrestling with a difficult and subjective question: just how tired is too tired to drive? Proving driver fatigue could be difficult. For one thing, because some people need more sleep than others, there is no clear consensus on the minimum hours of sleep required for safe driving.
Some well-rested drivers even doze off because they are bored. A typical case related to driver fatigue does have certain characteristics, such as:
- The accident happens late at night or during the early morning or midafternoon.
- The accident involves a single vehicle leaving the roadway.
- The driver is alone in the vehicle.
- The driver does not try to avoid a crash.
- There are no skid marks.
- The crash occurs on a high-speed road.
- The crash is likely to be serious.
When reporting an accident, drivers often do not tell the police that they were tired or dozing off at the wheel. Therefore, driver fatigue often goes unreported in accident reports. A personal injury lawyer experienced in driver fatigue cases can investigate the facts of the accident and may be able to determine if fatigue was a factor in the accident that caused your injuries.
Witnesses, depositions, and work records may yield evidence that will establish a case for driver fatigue. Accident reports contain a great deal of valuable information. The type of accident and the scene of the accident may furnish clues to what caused the crash. The driver’s cell phone records or other technical devices may demonstrate how far and how long he or she was driving.
Work and school records can also paint a picture of the driver’s activities prior to the crash. Witness testimony and credit or debit card receipts might indicate whether food or drink consumed before the accident could have made the driver drowsy. Prescription or over the counter medication that causes drowsiness could also be a factor. This may include medications for non-sleep related issues, like pain, or sleep medicines specifically meant to make one sleep that haven’t completely worn off by your morning drive.
Warning Signs of Fatigue
Driver fatigue can happen to anyone. However, drivers under age 25 make up an estimated 50 percent or more of drowsy driving crashes. There are many warning signs we should be aware of before we begin to drive or allow someone who we know is fatigued to get behind the wheel.
A few common signs include:
- Excessive yawning or fidgeting
- Inability to recall last couple miles
- Suddenly realizing you have no idea how you came to be at this location
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty adjusting to sudden changes in the road, such as construction
- Difficulty carrying on a conversation
- Drifting across the road
- Heavy eyelids or frequent blinking
- Missing traffic signs, exits, or signals
People engage in all kinds of strategies when they are driving and tired. They change the settings on the heater or air conditioner. They turn on their lights or their brights. They turn on loud music or open the car windows. Such tactics really don’t work. The best tips for avoiding an accident due to driver fatigue involve prevention, such as:
- Don’t drive between midnight and 4 a.m.
- Make sure you’re well-rested before you start driving
- Eat light meals
- Don’t drink alcohol
- Learn to recognize the first signs of fatigue
The Florida Department of Motor Vehicles provides additional safety tips for drowsy driving crash prevention, which include the following:
- Always get enough rest before driving. For most people that would mean at least 7 hours of sleep, but it varies for each person.
- Do not drive at a time when you normally would be sleeping.
- If you have another driver, switch drivers whenever you get tired.
- If you are driving a long distance, stop for a rest break every two hours or every 100 miles.
- Allow plenty of time to reach your destination. Don’t forget to plan for rest breaks.
- Caffeinated drinks may help keep you alert.
- Know the side-effects of your medications, particularly new medications, and avoid driving if you are on any prescription drugs that could make you drowsy.
- People who change time zones frequently, such as airline pilots, flight crews, and business travelers should be aware of potential jet lag.
Call Viles & Beckman if a Drowsy Driver Injured You
Drowsy driving is a perilous combination of driving and sleepiness or fatigue. It is a danger for the driver and everyone else on the road. Most of these accidents happen when the driver has not had enough sleep. However, untreated sleep disorders, alcohol, medications, and work schedules may also be factors. If you have questions about an accident involving a fatigued driver, you should consult a licensed attorney. A personal injury lawyer who is experienced at handling driver fatigue cases can evaluate your claim, discuss your legal options, and advocate on your behalf. Contact Viles & Beckman, LLC today at 239-334-3933 for a free case evaluation.