Are you tired? We live in an exhausting world. Most of us are juggling work, family, and endless other responsibilities. Maybe you had to work late or were awakened by a crying baby, or maybe you have a long, difficult commute. Whatever the cause, driving while fatigued is a common but dangerous problem.
Approximately 7.5 million drivers in the United States admit to having fallen asleep at the wheel within the past month, and 37 percent of drivers report that they have either briefly nodded off or actually fallen asleep while driving. In 2017, driver fatigue caused 795 fatalities.
In 2018, California reported 3,651 motor-vehicle deaths, which is slightly more than the previous year. The majority of deaths from motor vehicles in California involve passenger cars. Light trucks and motorcycles also accounted for a portion of the fatalities.
What Causes Driver Fatigue
Driver fatigue usually happens when a driver has not gotten as much sleep as needed. However, other factors such as alcohol, prescription or non-prescription drugs, and untreated sleep disorders can also result in fatigued driving.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average adult needs at least seven hours of sleep each night. Unfortunately, more than a third of adults do not get the sleep they need, and they also don’t take sleep loss seriously. However, drivers who got only five or six hours of sleep in the prior 24 hours were almost twice as likely to be involved in a car accident.
Also, a sleep-deprived driver is just as dangerous as a driver with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent, which is the legal threshold for intoxication. In some cases, drivers experience micro-sleep. While it only lasts a few seconds, that is long enough to cause an accident.
We have an internal clock known as the circadian rhythm. For most people, the urge to sleep increases in the mid-afternoon and at night. This means that people who work night shifts or long hours are especially vulnerable to fatigue. Substances such as alcohol or medications (either prescription or non-prescription) can cause fatigue or intensify drowsiness that already exists.
Contributing Factors to Driver Fatigue
Sleepiness can result in crashes at any time of the day or night, but common factors include:
- Fatigue-related accidents often happen between midnight and 6 a.m. or in the late afternoon.
- Accidents often happen on Sundays and Mondays, possibly due to weekend activities.
- Accidents often involve a lone driver who runs off the road at a high rate of speed with no evidence of braking.
- Accidents often happen on rural roads and highways.
- Sleeping less than four of the previous 24 hours drastically increases a driver’s risk.
Effects of Fatigue on Driving
Sleep requirements vary from one individual to another but fatigue generally affects cognitive abilities and may cause the following dangers:
- Slowed motor skills and reaction times
- Poor concentration
- Bad judgment when reacting to road or traffic conditions
- Blurred vision
- Driving too slowly or too fast
- Drifting across lanes
- Rolling stops
- Agitation or impatience with other drivers
Who Is Most Likely to Drive Drowsy?
Law enforcement officers, medical staff, emergency providers, and night shift workers are also likely to suffer from fatigue, especially when driving home after work. Approximately 15 percent of all large truck crashes involve fatigue. Long haul truck drivers have strict regulations requiring rest breaks. Unforutnatley, drivers under pressure to meet tight deadlines may enter false information in the log.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), adults between 18 and 29 years of age are most at-risk for drowsy driving. Nearly two-thirds of fatigue-related crashes involve younger drivers, even though they account for only one-fourth of all licensed drivers. It is no surprise that adults with children often drive fatigued. Men are almost twice as likely as women to fall asleep at the wheel.
In general, those with sleep disorders often suffer from fatigue. Individuals with narcolepsy may suddenly fall asleep. Sleep apnea is a common but serious sleep disorder in which patients repeatedly stop breathing during sleep. Those with sleep apnea often suffer extreme sleepiness in the daytime. People with sleep disorders may be unaware of the problem and so they may go untreated until they are involved in an accident.
Liability for Accidents Caused by Driver Fatigue
A court may consider someone who is driving while fatigued negligent and therefore may hold that individual liable for any accident or injury that results. Negligence is “a failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances.”
In some circumstances, a court may also hold other parties liable. For example, a truck driving company that does not properly monitor its drivers or instructs a driver to disregard the rules for rest breaks may also be liable for damages.
How Do You Establish Driver Fatigue in a Motor Vehicle Accident Case?
Driving fatigued is often either under-reported or not reported at all. That is partly because the driver may not recognize and accurately gauge his or her own drowsiness. Also, a driver may be reluctant to admit to fatigue out of concern for potential liability. In addition, it is difficult for law enforcement officers to recognize the signs of fatigue. There are no measurable tests to determine someone’s fatigue. Therefore, it is difficult to tell if someone is too tired to be driving.
The accident report may contain clues to the presence of driver fatigue. Time and date stamped cell phone records and social media posts, as well as credit or debit card records showing purchases of alcohol or medications can show a driver’s activity. Witnesses, depositions, and employment records may also yield valuable evidence. The accident scene may reveal a lack of skid marks or other indications that the driver did not swerve or brake.
Call a Car Accident Lawyer if You Still Have Questions
If you or someone you love was in a motor vehicle crash that fatigued driving may have contributed to, contact an experienced auto accident attorney as soon as possible. A car accident attorney can answer your questions, evaluate your case, and help you decide what next steps are in your best interests.