Americans are more stressed than ever these days, and this has been especially true during the past few months as we have been dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. A lot of people are just plain exhausted with everything that is happening, and there are many people out there driving when they are tired, fatigued, or sleepy.
Drowsy driving is defined as driving a motor vehicle when you are ready to fall asleep or even in the process of dozing off. Fatigued driving is similar, but it is characterized more as tiredness that is born of physical exhaustion. In either state, the driver has a hard time staying alert and focused on the road, and there is an inherent danger of falling asleep at the wheel.
Some of the common symptoms that drowsy drivers often experience include heavy eyelids, blurred vision, continuous yawning, drifting from their lane, and missing an exit. Motorists may try to combat drowsiness by consuming high amounts of caffeine or other stimulants, turning the radio louder, rolling the window down, talking to passengers, blinking their eyes more rapidly, and making an extra effort to keep their eyes open.
In spite of a driver’s best efforts to stay awake, however, no one can really tell at what point they cross over from being sleepy to falling asleep. And therein lies a major part of the problem. A motorist may believe that they can “handle” driving while drowsy, but they cannot really know what their breaking point is.
As catastrophic as it is, falling asleep at the wheel is not the only potential hazard that drowsy drivers face. Even if a tired or fatigued driver does not fall asleep, drowsiness still negatively impacts the way a motorist drives a vehicle. Because they have to expend so much of their available faculties to stay awake, their ability to pay attention to the road is severely compromised. In addition, a drowsy driver has slower reaction times, and they are unable to hit the break or adjust the steering wheel as quickly when an adverse condition arises.
How Often do Americans Drive while Drowsy?
Drowsy driving is a lot more common than most people realize. The CDC reports that drowsiness is responsible for more than 70,000 crashes and 44,000 injuries each year. They also state that 800 deaths a year are due to drowsy driving, but these are just the official numbers, and they believe that up to 6,000 fatal crashes annually may be caused by drowsy drivers. The discrepancy occurs because drivers who get into accidents are unlikely to admit that it happened because they were sleepy or fatigued, so this often does not show up on a police report.
Back in 2005, the National Sleep Foundation conducted a Sleep in America poll of adult drivers that yielded some staggering results about drowsy driving. The poll found that 60% of adult drivers in the US – or approximately 168 million people – admit to having driven while feeling drowsy within the past year. 37% of those polled – or approximately 103 million people – admitted to having fallen asleep behind the wheel. 4% of those polled – or approximately 11 million people – said that they have had an accident or nearly caused an accident because they fell asleep or they were too tired to drive.
Anyone who does not get an adequate amount of sleep is at risk for drowsy driving, but there are certain segments of the population in which this behavior is more common. These include:
- Shift workers – those who work long shifts that usually run into the evening and overnight hours.
- Commercial drivers – those who drive commercially for a living, such as bus drivers, tow truck drivers, and long-haul truckers.
- Drivers with untreated sleep disorders such as sleep apnea.
- Adults (more often in males than females) between the ages of 18 and 29.
- Adults with young children in the household.
- Drivers who take certain medications that are known to make them sleepy.
When we think of dangerous driving behaviors, drowsy driving is not usually at the top of our list. Unlike drunk driving and distracted driving, there are no laws against driving while drowsy, and there is no test that can be given to determine sleepiness, as there is with chemical impairment.
The bottom line is that we need to do a better job as a society of warning people about the dangers of drowsy driving. The best way for a motorist to avoid driving while sleepy or fatigued is to make sure they get a good night’s sleep before driving. For adults, this means at least seven hours of sleep, and for teen drivers, this means eight hours.
Other helpful preventative measures include avoiding driving late hours when possible, carpooling with a coworker, taking a cab or Uber home from work after a long and exhausting shift, making sure any sleep disorders or other health conditions that could impair your driving are properly treated, and for commercial drivers, taking frequent breaks from the road and making sure you do not violate federal Hours of Service regulations.
Injured in a Drowsy Driving Accident in Alabama? Contact an Experienced Auto Accident Lawyer
If you or a loved one got injured at the hands of a drowsy driver, you may be entitled to compensation. If the accident occurred in Mobile or any of the surrounding Alabama communities, Hedge Copeland, P.C., is here to help. Call our office today at (251) 432-8844 or message us online for a free consultation with a member of our legal team.