Drowsing Driving Accidents

On a Thursday afternoon in November 2016, a man driving on the highway momentarily nodded off near Jefferson City, and his car ran off the right side of the road, overturning. He and his wife were transported to a nearby hospital for treatment of their injuries.

According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, drowsy driving is a “profound impairment that mimics alcohol-impaired driving in many ways.” This type of extreme drowsiness may occur after a single episode of excessive wakefulness (such as staying up all night to study for a test), or after several nights in a row of getting less than six hours of sleep.

In its Drowsy Driving Research and Program Plan, the NHTSA points out that there is no test to reliably measure how many crashes could be blamed on drowsy driving. But drowsy driving is estimated to be a factor in 2 to 20 percent of annual traffic fatalities.

If you’ve been seriously injured in a traffic accident and believe a drowsy driver is to blame, you may be entitled to compensation for your damages, injuries, pain, and suffering. Call Bley & Evans today to request a free consultation: 844-443-8385.

Characteristics of Drowsy Driving Crashes

According to the National Sleep Foundation, drowsy driving crashes usually occur during three time periods:

  • Between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m.
  • From midnight to 2 a.m.
  • From 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

These crashes are also more common on uninterrupted stretches of rural highway, where drivers can easily “zone out.” Drowsy drivers may also have a heightened crash risk, due to agitation and impatience that accompanies tiredness.

The Effects of Sleep Deprivation

People may assume they need only five or six hours of sleep per night, but a panel of 18 scientists and medical researchers recommends no less than seven hours of sleep per night, for all age groups. For adults age 18 to 64, the ideal range is seven to nine hours of sleep per night.

Sleep deprivation produces both immediate and long-term consequences. Yawning and moodiness are some of the more immediate effects. Some of the more serious symptoms occur due to central nervous system dysfunction. Without adequate sleep, the brain cannot function effectively. That means sleep-deprived drivers may have trouble with perception, reaction time, decision-making, and emotional control. In extreme cases, people may experience hallucinations or a momentary loss of consciousness known as microsleep.

Microsleep may cause a complete lack of consciousness, or it may affect only certain parts of the brain. So a driver whose eyes are open and appears to be alert may be unaware that the brain has shut down a certain area. That’s how the brain regulates its function when it hasn’t had enough rest. Microsleep is beyond a person’s control – if the brain wants rest, it will rest.

High-risk Populations

Drowsy driving is a known safety risk for interstate truckers. They may drive thousands of miles during a single shift, often on uninterrupted highways and at night. Federal laws attempt to reduce the risk of drowsy driving by limiting the hours truckers can drive and requiring them to get adequate rest between shifts. But those laws don’t apply to other occupations that may be equally at risk of drowsy-driving crashes.

At a National Transportation Safety Board forum in October 2014, one panelist said workers in the oil and gas industry are at risk of drowsy-driving crashes, because worksites may be far away. Instead of staying at a temporary work camp near the job site, workers choose to make lengthy commutes instead.

Those commutes could be 90 minutes or more, one-way, and workers often put in long hours before driving home.

Shift workers, who often suffer from sleep disturbances, are at higher risk of drowsy-driving crashes. A study published in 2016 revealed that night-shift workers were more likely to crash while driving after their shift ended, especially after 45 minutes of driving. That study and the NTSB panel suggested that employers should do more to protect workers from drowsy driving, such as providing alternative means of travel, giving workers longer breaks between shifts, and establishing policies that educate workers about the dangers of drowsy driving.

Help for Personal Injury Victims

Some drowsy drivers are well aware they shouldn’t be operating a vehicle. They may crank up the stereo, roll down the window, and guzzle coffee, in an effort to stay alert. But none of those tactics can counteract the dangerous central nervous system changes that occur when the brain needs sleep. A better alternative is to find a safe place to pull off the road and take a nap or, if driving at night, to check into a hotel and get a good night’s sleep.

If you believe your car accident injury was caused by someone else’s drowsy driving, you may be able to pursue a personal injury case against that driver, or the driver’s employer. Ask for your free consultation today. Contact Bley & Evans online, or call us at 844-443-8385.