The silent epidemic of driving while fatigued

The problems of driving while under the influence and distracted driving are well-known. There are online campaigns, print ads, television commercials and advocacy groups all aimed at stopping these dangerous practices. So-called “drowsy driving” – driving without adequate sleep or rest – is not nearly as well-publicized, but the fact remains that it can be just as deadly.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an estimated 2.5 percent of annual fatal car accidents are attributable to fatigued drivers.

Polls performed by the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) report that over half of drivers surveyed admit that they have driven while sleepy in the past year, and about 28 percent of drivers admit doing it in the past month. Nearly 20 percent of drivers polled admitted to actually falling asleep behind the wheel in the last year.

A startling comparison

Several research studies have shown that driving while fatigued shares many characteristics with drunk driving. For example, driving after having been awake for about 18 hours produces slowed reaction times, poor judgment and lack of focus akin to having a .05 blood alcohol content (BAC). Once a driver has been awake for a solid 24 hours, his driving performance equals that of someone driving with a .10 blood alcohol level, which is beyond the legal BAC limit of .08 set by all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Helpful hints

Americans are always on the go these days. We have constant access to information, we live with our smart phones and tablets in our hands, and, thanks to DVRs and streaming technology, we can watch our favorite television shows at any time. As a result of our increasingly electronics-filled world, most of us are chronically sleep-deprived. The National Sleep Foundation recommends between seven and eight hours of sleep for every adult, and between nine and hours for adolescents. Getting less than that and getting behind the wheel puts us, our passengers and other motorists at risk.

Millions of Americans are currently suffering the physical and cognitive impact of an undiagnosed or untreated sleep disorder like chronic insomnia or obstructive sleep apnea. These people don’t get adequate rest when they are asleep, leaving their bodies and their brains more susceptible to the effects of fatigue while awake. If you suspect a sleeping disorder, seek treatment. On a related note, if you are prescribed medication to help you sleep, ensure that you have sufficient time to rest before taking it; if the medicine will make you sleep for eight hours, don’t take it if you only have four hours to rest. The lingering intoxicating effects of the medication will increase your chances of having an accident.

If you start falling asleep at the wheel, feel your eyes getting heavier, are yawning constantly, drift out of your lane or find yourself unsure how you got to your current location, it is time to rest. You need to find a safe place to either get some sleep or at least take a quick nap. A full night’s sleep is best, but even 15-20 minutes of napping could give your brain and body enough rest to let you finish your journey safely.

Should you or a loved one be injured in an auto accident with a fatigued driver, you have legal rights. To learn more about holding a drowsy driver accountable for his or her actions, speak with an experienced personal injury attorney in your area today.