Dangers of Fatigued Driving
Driver fatigue is a problem that the trucking industry has been dealing with for many years. When truck drivers violate hours-of-service regulations, either on their own initiative or after being pressured into doing so by their trucking company employer, countless lives are put at risk. This is a potential hazard that people traveling along West Virginia highways and roads face every day.
For example, in early August, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) cited truck driver fatigue, which then led to excessive speed in an active work zone, as the probable cause for the multiple-vehicle accident that caused one man to lose his life and a well-known actor, Tracy Morgan, to suffer traumatic brain injury along with other serious harm.
However, truckers are not the only ones who engage in this kind of careless conduct. Any driver can cause serious injury or death in a car wreck when he or she falls asleep or dozes off behind the wheel.
Why Is Drowsy Driving Dangerous?
When an individual is drowsy - whether it's due to a lack of sleep or possibly a reaction to taking a medication - it creates an extremely dangerous situation. According to the National Sleep Foundation's DrowsyDriving.org website, fatigue can cause:
- Impaired judgment
- Slowed reaction time
- Vision problems
- Decreased levels of attentiveness
- Short-term memory problems
- Difficulty processing information
- Decreased performance or vigilance
- Increased emotional behavior and moodiness
- Heightened aggression or susceptibility to road rage
- Reduced decision-making abilities.
Reuters reported on a study which found drowsy driving to be almost as dangerous as drunk driving. According to the study, drowsy or fatigued drivers and drunk drivers were both two times more likely to cause a car accident than drivers who had a sufficient night's sleep or who were sober.
In the article, Reuters quoted a scientist from the Henry Ford Hospital Sleep Disorders and Research Center who stated that experimental studies have shown, "just four hours of sleep loss will produce as much impairment as a six pack. If you have a whole night of sleep loss, that's equivalent to having a blood alcohol content of 0.19."
Who Is At Risk of Fatigued Driving?
While any driver runs a risk of dozing off behind the wheel at some point, those most at risk for drowsy or fatigued driving, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, are:
- Young, inexperienced drivers - particularly males
- Workers whose jobs have them working a late-night or "graveyard shift"
- People who regularly work long hours
- Commercial drivers, particularly those whose route requires they travel long distances or whose schedule requires they do a lot of their driving at night
- Individuals who are sleep-deprived
- People who are suffering from undiagnosed, misdiagnosed or untreated sleep disorders like sleep apnea
- People who have been driving alcohol
- Individuals who are under the influence of prescription drugs or use over-the-counter medications containing known sedatives.
What Can You Do to Avoid Drowsy Driving?
Fortunately, drivers like you can take a few simple actions that may help lower your risk of driving while tired or fatigued and help you avoid drowsy driving altogether. You should make sure to:
- Get a good night's sleep - The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that adults get at least seven to eight hours of sleep per night.
- Take frequent and regularly-scheduled breaks - Pulling off the road every few hours to stretch your legs, get some food or drink or even take a short 15-20-minute nap can reduce your risk of driving drowsy.
- Refrain from consuming alcohol before you plan to get behind the wheel - Drinking alcohol can actually make a person fall asleep, or at the very least inhibit his or her driving abilities. If you plan to drink, designate a sober driver so you and others are not put at risk.
- Do not take any prescription drugs or over-the-counter medication before driving - Even though a doctor may prescribe medication to treat an ailment or medical condition, it does not mean you should drive while under its influence. The same is true for over-the-counter medications. Read your labels carefully and follow manufacturer and doctor instructions.
- Avoid driving during your normal sleep hours - Driving after midnight can put you at risk of falling asleep. It is the time when most people are sound asleep in bed. If you can, schedule your trip during normal daylight hours.
- Seek treatment for any suspected sleep disorder - If you suspect you may have sleep apnea or another sleep disorder, seek medical treatment at once. An untreated condition can increase your risk of being involved in a drowsy driving accident, which can be avoided with proper treatment.
- Make yourself aware of the warning signs of drowsy driving - Drivers who can easily recognize the signs that they may be drowsy or sleep-deprived will be less likely to be involved in an accident. Yawning, frequent blinking, missing an exit, an inability to remember the last few miles driven, drifting from lane to lane and hitting rumble strips are all signs you may be falling asleep at the wheel.
Have You Been Harmed by a Fatigued Driver?
Driving while drowsy or fatigued is an act of negligence. When a driver has not had sufficient rest or is feeling tired, he or she is in no condition to drive. Doing so can result in the driver falling asleep, which can lead to a single or multiple-vehicle accident. When a fatigued driver causes an accident leading to other people suffering serious injury, harm or death, the victims of that drowsy driving accident have the right to seek compensation.
If you or someone you love has been seriously injured in a drowsy driving accident in Charleston or anywhere within the state of West Virginia, we recommend you seek legal representation at once. Contact a West Virginia car crash attorney at Mani Ellis & Layne, PLLC, today to schedule an initial consultation. We can review your case, advise you of your legal rights and help you determine how to proceed with your case.