Decades of anti-drunk driving campaigns have seared the consequences—including criminal penalties and the potential loss of life—of driving while under the influence of alcohol into the public consciousness. As a result, most drivers know better than to get behind the wheel after imbibing. However, even the most conscientious drivers may be doing something almost as dangerous as drunk driving—and putting countless lives at risk—if they choose to drive while drowsy.
While the dangers of drowsy driving aren't as well recognized by the public as the dangers of drunk or distracted driving, the statistics paint a grim picture of this all too common and incredibly risky driving behavior. According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), driver fatigue causes an estimated 71,000 injuries, 1,550 fatalities, and $12.5 billion in monetary losses each year in the United States.
How Common Is Drowsy Driving?
Regrettably, research shows that driving while fatigued is a very common occurrence. Conservative estimates from the NHTSA suggest that drowsy driving causes approximately 100,000 car accidents each year. Data from the National Sleep Foundation further emphasizes the everyday nature of this dangerous driving behavior. In the foundation's 2005 Sleep in America poll, 60 percent of adult drivers (approximately 168 million people) revealed that they had driven while sleepy sometime in the past year, while a shocking 37 percent (approximately 103 million people) reported that they had actually fallen asleep behind the wheel. Thirteen percent of the drivers who admitted to dozing off while driving said it happened to them at least once a month, and four percent of those drivers admitted that they had an accident—or were nearly in an accident—because they fell asleep or were too tired to drive. These are truly frightening statistics that every driver should know.
What Makes Drowsy Driving So Dangerous?
Many people think that, as long as they avoid actually falling asleep, there's no harm in driving while drowsy. Nothing could be further from the truth. Much like alcohol or drugs, sleepiness can impair driving performance, slow reaction time, and reduce driver vigilance. Even drivers who feel they're paying attention to the road may be too tired to process important information in a timely and safe manner. Sleepiness may also make drivers more stressed and impatient on the road, according to a Sleep in America poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation in 2000.
Any driver who gets behind the wheel while fatigued has the potential to cause a deadly car accident, however, some drivers are more prone to drowsy driving than others. Fatigue-related crashes were particularly common among drivers age 29 and younger, and are more common among young men than young women. Other groups at a greater risk for nodding off or falling asleep while driving include shift workers, adults with children, people who drive for long periods, people who take prescription or over-the-counter medications that cause drowsiness, and people with undiagnosed or untreated sleep disorders.
Characteristics of Fatigue-Related Car Accidents
Unfortunately, there's no test that can conclusively prove that a driver was overly fatigued at the time of an accident, which can make proving negligence and liability difficult. However, fatigue-related car accidents share a number of statistics that can provide investigators with invaluable clues as to what occurred. Drowsy driving crashes tend to share these characteristics:
- The accident occurs in the late night, early morning, or mid-afternoon hours. Research shows that most crashes or near misses happen between 4–6 a.m. and midnight–2 a.m. The time period around 2–4 p.m. is also a peak time for fatigue-related accidents.
- The driver is usually alone in the vehicle.
- The accident is usually serious.
- The accident happens on a high-speed, rural road.
- The driver makes no attempt to avoid the accident.
- Also, in most fatigue-related crashes, it's a single vehicle that veers off the road.
Were You Injured in a Drowsy Driving Accident? Our Attorneys Can Help
Drowsy driving is considered a form of negligence and fatigued drivers that cause accidents may be held liable. If you were injured in an accident that was caused by a sleepy driver, you may be entitled to compensation for medical bills, property damage to your vehicle, and lost wages if you're unable to work after your injury. Contact the experienced attorneys with the Packard Law Firm today for a free case evaluation. We're eager to help you collect any compensation you may deserve.