On Sunday, March 14, Daylight Saving Time began, which means that there is an additional hour of daylight in the afternoon. What is known as the spring ahead time change means that people lose an hour of sleep, which can disrupt the natural sleep cycle and increase the risk of drowsy driving car accidents, particularly during the days immediately following the time change. Some states are seriously considering doing away with the time change permanently, but until that happens, there are steps motorists can take to get the sleep they need and avoid drowsy driving-related car accidents. If a motorist is injured in a drowsy driving car accident, he or she is urged to contact a catastrophic injury lawyer as soon as possible.
What are the Warning Signs of Drowsy Driving?
Motorists do not always take drowsy driving as seriously as other dangerous driving behavior such as drunk driving, speeding, or distracted driving. However, safety officials say that drowsy driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving. In fact, studies show that getting less than five hours of sleep is the same as driving drunk. Both drowsy driving and drunk driving impact how well a driver can make quick decisions and react to an unexpected situation. The sudden time change can disrupt a driver’s sleep pattern, which can reduce his or her sleep quality over several days or longer. According to an assistant professor of integrative physiology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, when people’s circadian rhythm, the natural internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle, is disrupted, it can have a negative impact on overall health.
The following are examples of drowsy driving warnings signs. If a motorist starts to experience any of these symptoms, he or she should pull over to a safe, well-lit spot and rest:
- Constant blinking
- Inability to keep eyes open
- Missing road signs or turns
- Drifting into other lanes, or onto rumble strips
- Tailgating or swerving into other lanes
- Nodding off or falling asleep at the wheel
How Dangerous is Drowsy Driving?
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), drowsy driving is responsible for approximately 100,000 car accidents, nearly 71,000 injuries, and over 1,500 fatalities each year. In addition, a study by the National Sleep Foundation found that approximately 60 percent of drivers admitted that they drove while feeling fatigued during the past year, and one-third of those drivers said that they had fallen asleep while driving. If a motorist closes his or her eyes for a mere five seconds when traveling at a speed of 55 mph, it is like driving the length of a football field blindfolded. Unfortunately, drowsy driving often goes unreported, and safety officials, sleep scientists, and public health officials agree that the actual statistics are likely much higher.
Drowsy driving-related car accidents can happen at any time of the day if the driver is functioning on too little sleep. However, the following factors are associated with car accidents involving a drowsy driver:
- Drowsy driving car accidents usually occur between midnight and 6 a.m., or late in the afternoon. During these times, motorists tend to experience a dip in their circadian rhythm, which is the body’s internal clock that regulates sleep.
- Drowsy driving accidents often involve only one driver who runs off the road after nodding off. If the driver is traveling at a high speed when he/she drives off the road, it can cause a serious accident. Oftentimes, when police investigate the accident, there is no evidence that the motorist applied the brakes at all.
- Drowsy driving accidents often occur on rural roads and highways.
What Motorists are Most Likely to Drive While Drowsy?
Unlike drunk driving or driving while under the influence of drugs, drowsy driving is not illegal. At some point, most drivers will get behind the wheel of their car despite feeling slightly drowsy or even extremely exhausted. The average adult should get at least seven (7) hours of sleep each night, and the average teen needs at least eight (8) hours of sleep. Too often, however, life gets in the way and people do not get the recommended hours of sleep that they need. Although most people are susceptible to drowsy driving, the following individuals are more likely to do so:
- Commercial truck drivers, including those that operate semi-trucks, tow trucks, and buses.
- Young men in their teens, 20s, and 30s are more likely to drive while drowsy than older drivers or female drivers. Drowsy driving accidents involving young male drivers usually occur between 11:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m.
- Employees who work long shifts that include working into the evening or overnight.
- Drivers who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea or any other untreated sleep disorders.
- Individuals who travel long distances and must adjust to the different time zones.
- Drivers who take medication that causes drowsiness.
- Motorists who get less than six (6) hours of sleep per night on a regular basis.
How can I Avoid a Car Accident After the Time Change?
The clocks are moved ahead every year in March, so the time change should come as no surprise. By planning ahead, motorists can anticipate the effect that the lost hour of sleep will have on them and take steps to ensure that they are well rested when they get behind the wheel, including the following:
- Go to bed early. In the days leading up to the time change, motorists should go to bed 15 minutes earlier to help their body adjust to the lost hour of sleep.
- Adjust the timing of routines. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, daily routines, including dinner time and other evening activities, should happen slightly earlier to prepare for an earlier bedtime.
- If possible, it is best to work from home for a couple of days following the time change. This allows workers to avoid the morning commute when it is still dark. In addition, staying off the road means workers can avoid other drivers who may still be adjusting to the time change.
- Avoid distractions. Distracted driving is one of the most common causes of preventable car accidents. In addition, when drivers are drowsy from the lost hour of sleep, they can become more easily distracted. Drivers are urged to put their phone away, avoid other distractions such as changing the radio station or eating, and keep their attention focused on the road ahead.
- Keep a pair of sunglasses in the car. Because the sun will be setting later in the day after the time change, the sun may still be shining during the commute home. Having a pair of sunglasses in the car will help the driver focus on the road without having to squint.
What General Safety Tips can Help Me Avoid a Drowsy Driving Accident?
To reduce the risk of being involved in a drowsy driving car accident, there are a number of steps motorists can take, in addition to getting enough sleep:
- Avoid drinking alcohol before driving. Alcohol causes increased drowsiness and driver impairments.
- Motorists who are taking prescription or over-the-counter medication should check the label to see if it causes drowsiness. If it does, he or she should avoid driving if possible.
- Try to avoid driving during the peak periods of drowsiness. If this is not possible, motorists should stay focused on the road and be aware of other drivers who may be showing signs of drowsiness, including weaving into other lanes, hitting the rumble strip, and tailgating.
- Drink coffee or another type of caffeinated drink. Although this is only a temporary fix, it can help drivers feel more alert for a short period of time. Studies show that one to two cups of coffee combined with a short 20-minute nap in a well-lit, safe area can increase alertness for a short amount of time. Motorists should understand that the drowsiness will return when the effect of the caffeine wears off.
Los Angeles Car Accident Lawyers at ACTS Law Represent Victims of Drowsy Driving Car Accidents
If you or a loved one was seriously injured in a drowsy driving accident, you are urged to contact the Los Angeles car accident lawyers at ACTS Law as soon as possible. These preventable accidents can cause devastating injuries and extensive property damage. We will investigate the details of the accident, determine who is responsible for your injuries, and fight to ensure that you receive the financial compensation you deserve. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 833-ACTS-LAW or contact us online.
With offices located in San Diego and Los Angeles, we serve clients throughout Southern California.