Drowsy Driving: The “Sleeper” Danger on the Road
October 1st, 2017
Everyone knows that driving under the influence is dangerous, and that distractions such as texting, talking on a cell phone or watching videos while driving can be hazardous. But, one of the most significant risks to Texas drivers, passengers, and even pedestrians gets little attention. Fatigued drivers pose a much more serious risk than many people realize—including the drivers themselves.
Drowsy Driving Statistics
According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), fatigued drivers were responsible for 846 deaths in 2014. Although recognition of the risks of drowsy driving is relatively new, several recent studies highlight the dangers. A December 2016 report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety revealed that drivers who had contributed to a crash were much more likely than non-contributing drivers to report that they had:
• Slept less than four of the previous 24 hours
• Slept less than usual during the previous 24 hours
• Changed their sleep schedules in the previous seven days
The same study concluded that a driver who had slept less than four of the previous 24 hours was more than 8 times as likely to contribute to a motor vehicle accident as a driver who had slept between six and seven hours.
A report from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) provided further detail, concluding that those most likely to drive while impaired by lack of sleep included:
• College students
• Shift and night workers
• Law enforcement officers
• EMS providers
• Healthcare workers
• Commercial motor vehicle operators
• People with sleep disorders
In 2009 and 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gathered responses to a series of “behavioral risk” questions from more than 147,000 adults in 19 states and the District of Columbia. 4.2% of those responding said that they had fallen asleep while driving at least once in the previous 30 days. These reports were most common among people who reported:
• Sleeping six hours or less per night
• Falling asleep unintentionally during the day
The study also revealed significant differences from state to state. In Oregon, only 2.5% of drivers reported having fallen asleep at the wheel during the previous 30 days. Texans had the highest prevalence, with 6.1% saying they’d drifted off while driving. With more than 15,000,000 licensed drivers in Texas, extrapolating from those numbers suggests that more than 900,000 Texas drivers fall asleep in traffic each month.
Fatigued Driving Among Commercial Truck Drivers
The GHSA report cited above also revealed that 10-20% of commercial truck and bus accidents on U.S. roadways involved a tired driver. The problem may be especially widespread among commercial drivers due to time pressures pushing drivers to keep going past the point at which it is safe to drive. Federal law imposes strict regulations on the number of hours a trucker can drive, and makes rest periods mandatory. However, some disregard those regulations and even go as far as to alter or falsify driver logs and/or pre and post trip inspection records.
Liability for Drowsy Driving Accidents
A driver who is drifting off behind the wheel or otherwise impaired by lack of sleep and continues to drive is acting negligently. If the driver’s negligence results in injury to or the death of another person, he or she is responsible for the damages.
In some fatigued driving cases, there may be additional responsible parties. For example, if a commercial truck driver is driving while impaired by sleep deprivation because his employer imposes unrealistic expectations or has (implicitly or explicitly) instructed him to disregard hours in service regulations, the employer may also be liable for damages caused by drowsy drivers to the injured parties or the survivors of victims of fatal accidents.
Protecting Yourself and Others on the Road
If you find yourself drifting off or zoning out from lack of sleep while you’re driving, stop. Don’t get behind the wheel exhausted any more than you would if you were impaired by alcohol. When driving long distances, take measures to avoid getting drowsy from the monotony, such as keeping the passenger area of the vehicle cool and stopping periodically to move around. These simple measures could literally save your life—or someone else’s.
If You’ve Been Injured by a Fatigued Driver, Get Help
If you have been injured by a driver who shouldn’t have been behind the wheel or have lost a loved one to a fatigued-driving accident, you may be entitled to compensation. Learn more about your rights and options by calling (713) 932-0777 or filling out the form on this page.
Paul Cannon has practiced personal injury trial law since 1995. He is Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law (2005). He has earned recognition as a Super Lawyer by Thompson Reuters in 2017 & 2018, and as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers Association in 2017. He is a Shareholder, trial lawyer and online marketing manager at Simmons and Fletcher, P.C. His legal writings have been published by the Texas Bar Journal, Business.com, Lawyer.com HG Legal Resources, Lawfirms.com, and others. He has been asked to give education talks and media interviews on dog bite law.