One of the nation’s leading causes of car accidents, drowsy or fatigued driving affects every driver on the road, regardless of experience and age. According to a study by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there are nearly 800 drowsy-driving related fatalities annually, with almost 50,000 more injured. This comes from over 100,000 police-reported accidents related to fatigued driving.
However, many experts believe that those numbers are likely underestimated, as drowsy driving and its’ effects are difficult to track, and the number of incidents involving fatigued driving often goes underreported. In fact, the American Automobile Association (AAA) Foundation for Traffic Safety estimates that there are likely over 328,000 drowsy-driving related crashes, with over 109,000 injured and 6,400 fatalities. These numbers are likely more accurate because it is hard to determine whether a driver is drowsy at the time of an accident.
Drowsy driving is a prevalent problem on the road, yet many drivers do not even know they are too fatigued to drive until it is too late. A study by the National Sleep Foundation found that 37 percent of drivers admitted having fallen asleep while driving at least once in their driving careers. Among them, over 13 percent state that they have done so at least once a month.
Fatigued driving is a growing problem in the country and affects all of us. What makes fatigued driving so dangerous includes:
- Slowed reaction time: You do not necessarily need to be completely asleep for fatigue to adversely affect your driving. Lack of sleep greatly increases the chance of a crash because fatigue reduced your ability to react and slows your motor skills performance. It also negatively affects your focus as well as your short-term memory. Even though fatigue slows one’s reaction time by mere seconds, those few seconds could be the difference between life and death in an automobile accident.
- Three times more likely to cause an accident: According to the National Safety Council, fatigued and drowsy drivers are three times more likely to get into an accident. Furthermore, that accident risk increases drastically when combining inclement weather, other fatigued drivers, or low visibility.
- Similar effects to alcohol: The less sleep you get, the more that sleep deprivation will deprive you of your ability to drive safely. And chronic sleep deprivation also impairs your motor skills and thinking the longer you lack sleep. One study found that driving after staying awake for 24 hours straight is the equivalent of driving with the blood alcohol content (BAC) of .10, which is above the BAC legal limit.
- Poor judgment: Many fatigued drivers do not even realize they are that drowsy, which could be the biggest issue when it comes to drowsy driving. There are many signs of fatigue that all drivers should watch out for, including:
- Frequent yawning.
- Excessive blinking, rubbing eyes.
- Inability to remember the past few minutes, daydreaming.
- Missing turns or inability to focus on traffic signs.
- Drifting in and out of your lane.
- Driving over rumble strips.
- Tunnel vision.
- Microsleep (where one falls asleep for just a brief moment.)
- Following other cars too closely.
- More serious crashes: It is difficult to truly determine the reason why fatigued drivers are in the most serious accidents. Some experts believe that many crashes are serious because when the driver falls asleep, they do not release the gas pedal or brake before impact. Studies have found that most drowsy driving accidents often involve one car, which means that the car likely runs off the road or onto oncoming traffic. Furthermore, many fatigued driving accidents happen between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m., which is when most larger trucks are out.
Common Accidents Caused by Fatigued Drivers
As stated previously, most drowsy driving accidents are often quite serious and sometimes are fatal. The common types of car accidents caused by a drowsy driver include:
- Vehicle rollover: One of the most dangerous types of car accidents, rollover crashes have a very high fatality rate and could sometimes involve more than one car. Rollovers cause injuries to the upper part of the body, including the neck and head, which could lead to serious or permanent disabilities, even death.
- Head-on collision: Head-on collisions are another dangerous type of collision, and often happen at higher speeds. This occurs by a drowsy driver when they fall asleep at the wheel, turn into oncoming traffic, and fail to brake. If any passengers are not wearing a seatbelt, a head-on collision would most surely end in death.
- Rear-end collision: Rear-end collisions are caused by a drowsy driver normally because they were following too closely to the car in front of them. Damage can range from minor to severe, depending on the speed at which the cars have been traveling, and can sometimes involve more than two cars.
- Single car collision: Many drowsy driving accidents are single car collisions when the driver falls asleep at the wheel and turns off the road or fails to see an obstacle or pedestrian. The accident caused can either be minor or severe and can at times be fatal.
How to Prevent a Fatigued Driving Accident
The best way to prevent a fatigued driving accident is to get an adequate amount of sleep the night before you do any driving, but that is obviously easier said than done. Here are some tips on how to avoid a drowsy driving accident:
- Plan ahead: With the hustle of modern living, it may be tough to get a good seven or eight hours of sleep the night before but doing so lowers your chances of getting into an accident. Plan the night before to get an adequate amount of sleep, especially if you are going on a long trip. When driving, schedule to stop every few hours and give yourself a 20-minute break.
- Sleep disorders: Many people in the country suffer from sleep disorders and do not even know it. Sleep apnea, a sleep disorder with excessive snoring and loss of oxygen, is one health issue that, if not treated, can lead to drowsiness and fatigue during the day.
- Avoid drugs and alcohol: Not only does alcohol impair your reflexes and ability to drive, but it also makes you tired, which is a dangerous combination for driving. If you take prescription medication, pay attention if the side effects cause drowsiness, and never combine alcohol with drugs of any kind. These include over-the-counter drugs, sleep aids, and dietary supplements.
- Use technology: Many newer cars have technology meant to keep the driver awake, such as alert systems that pop up when the vehicle notices their eyes drifting off. There are also lane departure warnings in vehicles that set off an alarm when it senses the vehicle drifting into another lane.
- Get sufficient rest: Some people believe opening the windows or using the air conditioner will keep them awake, but the best thing to do is rest. Coffee and energy drinks can give you a boost, but caffeine is only temporary, and the more you consume the more tired you will be when it wears off. If you are nodding off behind the wheel, pull over somewhere safe for a nap.
- If necessary, adjust your sleep habits: A good way to stave off fatigued driving is to develop good sleeping habits. Go to bed at the same time every night and get at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night. Turn off any electronics an hour before bed, and do not eat anything before heading off to bed.
Drowsy or fatigued driving is not often thought of as hazardous as drunk or distracted driving, but that could not be further from the truth, as drowsy driving is in fact just as dangerous. It is also considered negligent or reckless driving, as it puts yourself and others in harm’s way.
The Virginia Beach Car Accident Lawyers at Anchor Legal Group, PLLC Help Those Injured by Fatigued Drivers Drowsy or fatigued driving is negligent driving.
If you or a loved one has been injured by a drowsy driver, then contact our experienced Virginia Beach car accident lawyers at Anchor Legal Group, PLLC immediately. Our knowledgeable team has years of experience with these types of cases and can help you get the compensation you rightfully deserve. Call us today at 757-LAW-0000 or fill out our online form for an initial consultation. With our offices located in Virginia Beach, Virginia, we proudly serve all communities of Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Norfolk, Suffolk, Portsmouth, Newport News, Hampton, and Eastern Shore. We also serve our clients throughout the United States through our network of associated attorneys.