When it comes to dangerous driving behaviors, drunk/impaired driving and distracted driving are probably the first things that come to mind. However, drowsy driving can be just as dangerous, and it is alarmingly common. According to a survey by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), close to half of all Americans admit that they often struggle to stay awake when driving. This can be extremely dangerous for the driver, as well as other passengers in the car and other motorists in the vicinity, particularly if the drowsy driver falls asleep at the wheel. Although drunk/impaired driving can be proved using a breathalyzer test, and police can check a driver’s phone to confirm that he or she was sending a text at the time of an accident, there are no laws that prohibit drowsy driving, and it is difficult to prove. There are steps motorists can take to stay awake and alert when driving or avoid other motorists who may be showing signs of drowsy driving.
Drowsy driving is more common than people might think. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), each year, there are roughly 100,000 car accidents that are caused by drowsy driving. These accidents cause approximately 71,000 injuries and 1,500 fatalities that could have been avoided if the driver recognized that they were feeling drowsy and avoided getting behind the wheel. Too often, people do not take drowsiness seriously, yet it can have a significant impact on a driver’s ability to keep their attention focused on the road, and it can slow drivers’ reaction times if they need to brake suddenly or avoid hitting another vehicle. Studies have shown that drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as impaired driving. In fact, motorists who drive after being awake for 24 hours can have the same impairments as having a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.10 percent, which is over the legal limit.
Victims of car accidents caused by a drowsy driver are urged to contact an experienced catastrophic injury lawyer for assistance.
Motorists at the Greatest Risk for Drowsy Driving
Any motorist who gets behind the wheel after getting too little sleep and who is showing signs of drowsiness is at risk of causing a drowsy driving accident. However, the following individuals are more likely to drive drowsy:
- Motorists who generally do not get enough sleep. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, people who get between six and seven hours of sleep a night are twice as likely to be in a car accident as motorists who sleep eight or more hours a night. Drivers who get less than five hours of sleep are five times more likely to be in a drowsy driving car accident.
- Shift workers who work long hours and/or night shifts.
- Commercial truck drivers or individuals who operate tow trucks, tractor trailers, or buses.
- Drivers who have undiagnosed or untreated sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, which causes the individual’s breathing to stop and start repeatedly throughout the night.
- Drivers who are taking prescription or over-the-counter medication that causes drowsiness.
- Young men in their teens, 20s, and 30s are the drivers who are most likely to drive drowsy.
Common Signs of Drowsy Driving
Drivers who experience any the following signs should avoid driving until they are able to catch up on sleep, and feel awake and alert:
- Frequent yawning
- Inability to keep eyes open
- Difficulty focusing
- Frequent daydreaming, having disconnected thoughts
- Memory issues
- Drifting into other lanes of traffic
- Nodding off or having trouble staying awake
- Missing road signs, causing drivers to miss their turn
- Inability to remember driving the past several miles
- Driving too close to nearby cars
- Hitting the rumble strips on the side of the road
How to Avoid a Drowsy Driving Accident
In addition to being aware of the common signs of drowsiness and avoiding driving if experiencing any of those signs, there are some simple steps drivers can take to prevent drowsy driving, including the following:
- Get enough sleep. This may be easier said than done sometimes, but it is important to stay focused and alert when driving. Adults generally need at least seven hours of sleep a day, whereas teenagers need at least eight hours of sleep each night.
- Establish good sleeping habits. It is suggested that drivers try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
- Avoid driving at night. It is better not to drive at night if possible. When it is dark outside, it signals the body to get ready for sleep. It is especially important to avoid driving between 12:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m.
- Share the task of driving. If driving a long distance, a motorist can share the driving with another adult driver.
- Use a ride-sharing service. After a long shift at work, if a motorist feels fatigued, he or she should get a ride home or call a ride-sharing service such as Uber or Lyft.
- Do not drink and drive. In addition to the impairments associated with drinking alcohol, it can also cause drowsiness.
- Watch medications taken. Drivers should avoid taking any medication that is known to cause drowsiness. It is important to check the label or ask the pharmacist if the medication causes drowsiness.
- See a doctor. If a motorist has a sleep disorder or is experiencing symptoms associated with sleep disorders, including snoring or extreme fatigue during the day, they should talk to their doctor about possible treatment options.
- Take a break. Drivers who start to feel drowsy are urged to pull over to a safe, well-lit spot and take a short nap. After the nap, the driver can walk around outside and get some fresh air to avoid driving while still groggy from the nap.
Why Does Drowsy Driving Remain Such a Serious Problem?
There are a number of reasons why drowsy driving continues to cause thousands of accidents that result in serious injuries and fatalities, as well as significant property damage, including the following:
- There is no test that can prove that a driver is drowsy.
- Each state has different reporting practices. Police are not trained on how to identify drowsiness as a crash factor. Codes are inconsistent, making it difficult to track accidents that are caused by drowsy driving.
- Self-reporting is unreliable.
- Drowsy driving may also play a role in other accidents, such as those caused by drunk or impaired driving. It is not always clear whether it is the drowsiness, distractions, or the alcohol that is responsible for these accidents.
Drowsy driving may be considered reckless driving in the following circumstances:
- A drowsy driver who is traveling more than 20 mph over the speed limit, or more than 80 mph. Oftentimes, fatigued drivers do not realize they are speeding until it is too late.
- Drowsy drivers are more likely to lose control of their vehicle because of fatigue. From drifting into another lane to tailgating to failing to brake appropriately, this is common among drowsy drivers.
- Failing to signal appropriately may be considered reckless driving, which drivers may be more likely to do when fatigued.
- Other drowsy driving-related behavior would be considered reckless if it causes extreme danger to pedestrians, bicyclists, and other motorists.
Ultimately, drowsy driving car accidents are completely preventable. By getting enough sleep or refraining from driving if motorists feel fatigued, these accidents can be avoided. Drivers who fail to take the appropriate precautions and get behind the wheel, even when they feel extreme fatigue, can face harsh penalties, including fines, suspended license, and even jail time. The victims of drowsy driving car accidents may be eligible for financial compensation, including the following:
- Economic damages. These are expenses that can be easily quantifiable, such as medical expenses, lost wages, prescription medication, physical therapy, and property damage.
- Non-economic damages. These have to do with a compromised quality of life that the injury caused. They are not measurable and cannot be calculated by medical bills or receipts for treatment. Examples include the following:
– Emotional distress
– Pain and suffering
– Loss of consortium
– Disability of disfigurement
– Loss of enjoyment of life
– Physical impairments
California does not impose limits on the amount of financial compensation an individual can claim in a personal injury lawsuit. In addition, there is no cap for non-economic damages, except for the following circumstances:
- If a motorist with no car insurance is injured in a car accident that was caused by another, he or she may not claim non-economic damages unless the other driver was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident.
- If a motorist is injured in a car accident but was under the influence of alcohol when the crash occurred, he or she may not claim non-economic damages, even if the other motorist caused the accident.
- If a motorist was injured while fleeing the scene of a crime, he or she cannot claim non-economic damages.
Los Angeles Car Accident Lawyers at ACTS Law Advocate for Victims of Drowsy Driving Car Accidents
If you have been seriously injured in a car accident that was caused by another motorist who was driving while drowsy, do not hesitate to contact the Los Angeles car accident lawyers at ACTS Law. It can be difficult to prove that a motorist was drowsy at the time of the accident, but we will thoroughly investigate the details of the case, including whether the motorist was coming off of a long shift, or if he or she was taking medication that could cause drowsiness, and hold that person responsible for your injuries. We will protect your rights and assist you in claiming the compensation you deserve. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 833-ACTS-LAW or contact us online.
With offices in San Diego and Los Angeles, we serve clients throughout Southern California.