Monday, July 17, 2017

Driving While Drowsy and its Effects on All of Us

driving while drowsy

Recently, I was on a family vacation in the Rocky Mountains. As our flight had arrived late, and the lodge at which my family and I was staying was several hours from the airport, I ended up driving up the mountain under the cover of darkness. As my children snored in their car seats, and my wife rested her eyes, I couldn’t help but feel tired myself. I had plenty of rest the night before and had even slept on the plane, and yet, I was fighting heavy eyelids. Eventually, we arrived safely at our destination, but it was certainly a scary ordeal: driving in an unfamiliar area on dangerous terrain, in a situation (driving up and down a mountain) in which I’d never found myself before.

It was after my family and I returned from our trip that I did some research on the topic of drowsy driving. According to the Center for Disease Control, “an estimated 1 in 25 adult drivers report having fallen asleep while driving in the previous days(1). Further, according to several studies, conducted by AAA and other academic institutions, there could me as many as 6,000 fatal car crashes each year which are caused by drowsy drivers(2).

While the numbers are jarring, it should not surprise anyone to learn that drowsy driving can be so dangerous. When people are tired or sleep deprived, their reaction times are slowed, their decision-making is impaired, and they are simply less able to pay attention to the road, other drivers, and potential hazards. In fact, while certainly everyone (even those who do it) would agree that drunk driving is extremely hazardous to one’s health, many people fail to consider that  the effects of sleep deprivation are very similar to the effects of alcohol. According to a study released by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, even “moderate sleep deprivation produces impairments in cognitive and motor performance to legally prescribed levels of alcohol intoxication”(3) The study found that test subjects, after 17-19 hours without sleep performed equal to or worse than test subjects without any level of sleep deprivation but who had blood alcohol content levels of 0.05% (which is just .03% below the legal limit in the state of Florida).

So why do so many of us continue to drive while we are tired? Perhaps pride plays a role. Anecdotally, in situations similar to the one I described above, I’ve always felt a sense of accomplishment in being able to complete a long car ride without having to give up the wheel. Oddly enough, “men are more likely than women to drive while drowsy and almost twice as likely to fall asleep while driving”(4).Additionally, I’m certain some drivers who have driven while tired or who have dozed off at the wheel, simply didn’t think it would happen to them. 

Many drowsy drivers are unable to stop or have someone else take the wheel; it's not really an option. They are driving alone and thus can't turn over the wheel. Or they can't stop and rest because they need to get home to their children. “Sleep related crashes are most common in young people, especially men, adults with children and shift workers”(5)

Another group that vulnerable to high incidence of drowsy driving is truck drivers(6). The Harvard School of Medicine conducted an anonymous survey which found that: 50% of respondents admitted to having driven while drowsy and 25% of respondents admitted to having fallen asleep while driving, nearly half of long-haul truck driver respondents admitted to “drifting off” to sleep while on a long-haul route(7). 

Recently, amid rising concerns about the issue, the U.S. Department of Transportation has increased regulations on long-haul truck drivers, limiting the number of hours a driver is permitted to drive before a mandatory break. 

Still, the dangers presented by long-haul truckers and their propensity for driving extended hours are great. This is a serious concern, since accidents involving trucks are usually much more serious than other types. In fact, 98% of the semi-truck vs. passenger vehicle accidents in which there is a death, the person killed was in the passenger vehicle. Combine this statistic with truckers driving while drowsy, and it's easy to see why the topic is worrisome. 

For those truckers who drive most of their routes at night, the dangers are increased, as the body's circadian rhythm makes each of us more inclined to sleep during the night and wake during the day.

Drowsy driving is not like other issues that injure or kill our loved ones; it is a fixable problem with easy solutions. Prevent drowsy driving by:
  • Making sure that you are well-rested before hitting the road,
  • Handing over the wheel to someone who is not tired,
  • Pulling over to rest, if need be, 
  • or by leaving your car and opting for an Uber or taxi home. 
These options, which may cost a few hours, a few dollars, a few nicks in your pride, are well worth it if they prevent a family from having to receive a devastating phone call.

Have you or a loved one suffered injury or death because of a car accident? Was that car accident due to another driver falling asleep or driving while drowsy? Call one of the experienced and aggressive attorneys of the Dolman Law group to discuss your legal rights and options. We have the premier personal injury lawyers in the greater Tampa Bay area, and are here to fight for your right to compensation. Contact us today for a free, no-risk consultation by using our contact form or at (727) 451-6900. 

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