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Here’s How Fatigue Impairs Motorists’ Abilities to Safely Operate Vehicles

Like alcohol, fatigue can be incredibly impairing and deadly. In fact, on average, about 18 people are killed every day by drowsy drivers (source: NSC). And experts say those numbers are likely way off, with drowsy driving deaths more likely about 350% greater than what authorities report.

As scary as that it is, understanding the problem can be the first step to combating it.

Why Driver Fatigue Is So Dangerous

Drowsiness and fatigue can impair motorists’ abilities on multiple levels, causing:

  • Misperceptions of their surroundings: Fatigued drivers are far more likely than well-rested motorists to overlook or misinterpret critical aspects of their driving environments. That could mean not seeing brake lights or taking cues from the wrong traffic signals, for example.
  • Riskier decisions: These choices can impact anything from timing and speed to deciding to drive while drunk and drowsy.
  • Performance errors: Fatigue can cause drivers to mishandle vehicles by overcompensating after making a turn or failing to stay within a lane of traffic.
  • Delayed response times: Tired drivers are slower to respond to changes in their driving environments. Even delays of just a few seconds can be enough to cause a drowsy driving accident.

These impairments are similar to those experienced by drunk drivers. That’s why authorities have pointed out that (sources: FMCSA & Sleep Foundation):

  1. Driving after 18 hours with no sleep can cause impairments similar to driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.05 — that’s over the legal limit of 0.04 for commercial truck drivers.
  2. Driving after 20 hours with no sleep can be like driving with a BAC of 0.08 — that’s double the legal limit for commercial truck drivers.
  3. Driving after 24 hours with no sleep is akin to driving with a BAC of 0.10.

Acknowledging and hoping to prevent these dangerous, authorities have established hours-of-service (HOS) rules for truck drivers. Those rules limit driving time, require certain rest periods, and mandate specific documentation to verify compliance. Despite these HOS rules, however, many truckers and motor carriers make the dangerous choice to skirt regulations and allow drowsy driving.

Drowsy Driving Facts & Statistics

The following driver fatigue statistics paint a clear picture of this issue, revealing how often drowsy drivers are taking risks and crashing (sources: FMCSANHTSANSC & Sleep Foundation):

  • When you are fatigued, your crash risk triples. In other words, you’re three times more likely to be in a traffic accident when you’re drowsy.
  • Sleeping 6 to 7 hours a night doubles your crash risk. If you’re sleeping less than 5 hours a night, your crash risk doubles again.
  • About 1 in 25 drivers admits to falling asleep at the wheel within the past 30 days.
  • About 13% of truckers are considered “fatigued” when 18-wheelers crash.
  • Each year, drowsy driving causes more than 90,000 traffic collisions and 50,000 injuries.
  • Most drowsy driving accidents happen between midnight and 6 a.m., which is when the body’s circadian rhythms naturally dip.
  • About 50% of drowsy driving crashes involve motorists under the age of 25.
  • Drowsy driving accidents cost Americans about $109 billion annually, and that does not include the costs associated with damaged property.

Who Has the Greatest Risk of Driver Fatigue?

Professional or commercial drivers, like truckers and bus drivers, typically have the greatest risks of experiencing drowsiness behind the wheel. Other risk factors for drowsy driving and driver fatigue include (and are not limited to):

  • Sleep disorders, like sleep apnea
  • Driving at night
  • Alcohol use
  • Some medications

How to Avoid Drowsy Driving Accidents: 5 Tips

You can’t control other drivers, but you can take action to protect yourself and remain responsive to your driving environment. Here are some of the best ways to minimize your risk of drowsy driving accidents:

  1. Get enough rest: The average adult needs about 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night.
  2. Pay attention to your surroundings: You never know when you’re sharing the road with drowsy drivers, so stay alert and pay attention to the motorists around you. If they seem to be erratic behind the wheel, do your best to move away from them in traffic.
  3. Know the symptoms of driver fatigue: Heavy eyelids, tunnel vision, and head bobbing are all telltale signs of drowsiness in drivers. If you start experiencing these symptoms, it’s probably a good time for you to get off the roads.
  4. Don’t fight fatigue behind the wheel: The only antidote to drowsiness is resting, so if you do feel fatigue coming on, find the nearest rest stop and pull over there. Consider taking a nap if you need to.
  5. See a doctor (if needed): If you’re experiencing driver fatigue even though you’re getting at least 7 hours of sleep a night, you could have a condition like sleep apnea. If you do, treating that condition can be essential both to your health and your ability to get a good night’s rest.

It’s up to drivers and the companies that employ them to be proactive about road safety and do their part to reduce the risk of drowsy driving accidents, which are 100% preventable.

Who Is Liable for Drowsy Driving Accidents?

Tired drivers can be just one party that’s liable for the drowsy driver accidents. Depending on how the crash happened and who was involved, other liable parties could include (and may not be limited to) negligent:

  • Motor carriers: Did trucking companies’ scheduling or policies contribute to driver fatigue? If so, these motor carriers can be liable for 18-wheeler wrecks caused by trucker fatigue.
  • Vehicle equipment makers: Were defective or faulty components on the truck and/or other vehicles partly to blame? If so, these parties can share liability for a crash.

It can be difficult to know if driver fatigue is a factor in a crash and who, aside from the tired driver, may be liable. When it’s time to figure out these and other key issues about a potential drowsy driving accident claim, it’s time to contact an experienced attorney.

Morris & Dewett provides this information to the public for general education and interest. The firm does not represent clients in every topic discussed in legal & injury news. The information is curated and produced based on trends in law, governance, and society to present relevant issues to the general public. Every effort is made to provide accurate information. Do not make any decision solely based on the information provided, please seek relevant counsel for each topic area. Consult an attorney before making any legal decision, consult a doctor before making any medical decision, and consult a financial advisor before making any fiscal decision. If you have any legal needs that we can assist you with, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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