The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is a great resource for automobile safety and can be very useful to a car accident lawyer when researching specific causes of car accidents, such as drowsy driving. On their website, they have several FAQ’s that deal with drowsy driving in particular.
Drowsy driving is not just a problem in West Virginia. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conservatively estimates that 100,000 police-reported crashes are the direct result of driver fatigue each year, resulting in an estimated 1,500 deaths, 71,000 injuries, and $12.5 billion in monetary losses.
Definitions of drowsy driving generally involve varying uses and definitions of fatigue, sleepiness, and exhaustion. For the purpose of the discussion at hand, drowsy driving is simply driving in a physical state in which the driver’s alertness is appreciably lower than it would be if the driver were “well rested” and “fully awake.”
The inability of a sleeping driver to try to avoid crashing makes this type of crash especially severe. Some studies have found people’s cognitive-psychomotor abilities to be as impaired after 24 hours without sleep as with a BAC of 0.10%, which is higher than the legal limit for DWI conviction in all US states.
I have included some of the more important FAQ’s from their website:
What are the warning signs of drowsy driving?
Some warnings signs you may experience that signify drowsiness while driving are:
The inability to recall the last few miles traveled,
Having disconnected or wandering thoughts,
Having difficulty focusing or keeping your eyes open,
Feeling as though your head is very heavy,
Drifting out of your driving lane, perhaps driving on the rumble strips,
Accidentally tailgating other vehicles,
Missing traffic signs.
In fact, drowsy drivers sometimes drive so poorly that they might appear to be drunk. In a survey of police officers conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, nearly 90 percent of responding officers had at least once pulled over a driver who they expected to find intoxicated, but turned out to be sleepy (and not intoxicated).
What are the specific at-risk groups affected by drowsy driving?
The specific at-risk group for drowsy-driving-related crashes comprises people who drive after having not slept enough, qualitatively or quantitatively. If you’re tired and you’re driving, you are at risk. In general, individuals who are “most at-risk for being at-risk” of drowsy driving include:
Young People : Sleep-related crashes are most common in young people, especially those who tend to stay up late, sleep too little, and drive at night – a dangerous combination. A study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the State of New York found that young drivers are more than 4 times more likely to have sleep-related crashes than are drivers over age 30.
Shift Workers and People with Long Work Hours : Shift workers and people who work long hours are at high risk of being involved in a sleep-related crash. The human body never fully adjusts to shift work, according to the National Sleep Foundation. The body’s sleep and wake cycles are dictated by light and dark cycles, and generally will lead one to feel sleepy between midnight and 6 AM. For more information, see the National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep Strategies for Shift Workers.
People with Undiagnosed or Untreated Sleep Disorders : Approximately 40 million people are believed to have some kind of sleep disorder. Many different sleep disorders result in excessive daytime sleepiness, placing this group at high risk for sleep-related crashes. Common sleep disorders that often go unnoticed or undiagnosed include sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and restless leg syndrome. You can learn more about these and other sleep disorders by visiting the National Sleep Foundation web site.
Business Travelers : Business travelers struggle with jet lag, a common sleep disorder that causes sleepiness and negatively affects alertness. “Jet lag” as well as long work hours put these weary travelers at increased risk for sleep-related crashes.
Finally, it is important to realize that although these specific groups of people are statistically most likely to be involved in drowsy driving crashes, one who does not fall into any of these groups is by no means “immune” to drowsy driving. “Average drivers” who don’t happen to be under age 30, working the night shift, traveling for business, or suffering from sleep apnea are still at risk if they drive while fatigued.
What about coffee? Won’t that keep me awake?
Not necessarily. The “perk” that comes from drinking a cup of coffee may take a half hour or so to “kick in,” is relatively short in duration, and will be less effective for those who regularly consume caffeine (i.e., most people). If you’re very sleepy, and rely on caffeine to allow you to continue driving, you are likely to experience “microsleeps,” in which you doze off for four or five seconds, which doesn’t sound like long, but is still plenty of time to drive off of the road or over the centerline and crash.
Read the entire article here.
– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Car Accident Attorney.