You could normally be one of the safest drivers on the road, but putting in long hours behind the wheel after waiting until the last minute to leave your vacation spot or driving at night while the kids are asleep in the back seat could cause your eyelids to become heavy. Before you know it, you’ve veered out of your lane and caused an accident.
According to a AAA survey, over one-quarter of drivers admitted they had driven while they were “so sleepy that [they] had a hard time keeping [their] eyes open” during the previous 30 days. In the eyes of the law, that’s negligence.
DWS (Driving While Sleepy) Statistics
- An almost-incredible number of people have said they have driven while sleeping—60 percent—according to a recent poll taken by the National Sleep Foundation. Nearly 2 in 5 drivers—37 percent—admitted they had actually fallen asleep while driving during the previous year.
- There were 72,000 crashes caused by drowsy driving in 2015, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), resulting in 41,000 injuries and 800 deaths.
- But some consider these numbers too conservative. Other safety organization groups have pegged the numbers as much higher—nearly 6,000 deaths caused by drowsy driving in the U.S. every year. That figure is extrapolated from an estimate that 16.5 percent of all fatal crashes involve a drowsy motorist.
- As many as 42 percent of lane-drift accidents that caused a serious or fatal injury have involved drivers considered “incapacitated.” It’s estimated that roughly half of the incapacitated drivers had been sleeping. (The other half was incapacitated due to illness, drugs, or alcohol.)
Many of the numbers above represent only the drivers whose drowsiness actually led to a reported accident – not near-misses or situations where only the drowsy driver’s vehicle was damaged and he or she chose not to report it. That’s often because there is no definitive test to prove drowsiness, no “Breathalyzer” to demonstrate sleepiness. Therefore, we often have only the judgment of those investigating the crash to determine the cause. On top of that, only two states have laws that target DWS: New Jersey and Arkansas.
Why Might Someone Be Driving While Sleepy?
Many reasons exist for drowsy driving, including the obvious ones such as plain old not sleeping enough. But you might not be aware of some other factors that can cause DWS crashes:
- Driving after working a night shift. You can suffer from excessive daytime sleepiness if you perform shift work, especially if your shift moves around, disturbing the circadian rhythm that regulates your body clock. Falling asleep while driving home from work is a particular danger.
- Driving while under the influence of common drugs and remedies. We’re not talking about illegal drug abuse–cold and allergy medication especially can cause sleepiness. The sedating effect of most over-the-counter antihistamines is well known.
- Having an untreated or undiagnosed sleep disorder. Those with narcolepsy and obstructive sleep apnea have a much higher risk of falling asleep behind the wheel.
- Being a male under the age of 30. This demographic is most likely to crash because of drowsy driving. The NHTSA claims that drivers under 30 caused almost two-thirds of DWS crashes.
- Being a teenager or young adult. Teens and young adults, for physiological reasons, can find it hard to go to sleep until late at night and then rise early for school. This fact is known as delayed sleep phase syndrome. A teen’s ongoing fatigue can lead to a higher chance of crashes due to drowsy driving.
- Being a senior. Age creates changes in our bodies. Seniors are especially vulnerable to falling asleep in the middle of the afternoon.
According to the CDC, not sleeping for 24 hours produces the same impairment behind the wheel as having a few stiff drinks—in other words, a blood alcohol content level of 0.10. Across the U.S., a BAC of less than that—0.08—is considered legally drunk. DWS is just as dangerous as DUI.
Drowsy Drivers in Indiana
Think we don’t have a problem in our state? Drowsy-driving crashes occur more often than you might believe, but because accidents are not often tagged as due to drowsy driving, the numbers of accidents listed as caused by sleepiness underrepresent the reality. Here are just a few of the known drowsy-driving accidents that have taken place on Indiana highways:
- Early on September 14, 2014, a driver driving straight through from Yellowstone National Park crashed in Lake County, Indiana. The vehicle left the road, hitting a ditch and narrowly missing a light pole. His passenger was taken to the hospital.
- On December 5, 2013, the driver of an SUV fell asleep and crashed head-on into a van hauling a trailer in Noble County, Indiana. The driver of the SUV was transported by helicopter to the hospital.
- On May 17, 2013, four people were injured in Greenfield, Indiana, east of Indianapolis, when a driver fell asleep at the wheel and veered off the road. The vehicle hit a sheriff’s cruiser which had stopped to offer assistance to a driver whose truck had broken down. All four people involved were hospitalized.
What to Do If You Become Drowsy While Driving
Science tells us that sleep does not occur spontaneously, without warning. Even though a driver may not remember falling asleep, he or she probably will remember trying to fight off sleep before the accident. If you are driving and find you are struggling to stay awake, the most effective counter-measure is to stop driving and take a 30-minute break with a short nap and/or a caffeinated beverage. Some people like to talk a walk around a parking lot, but research shows this is not effective. Things like playing the radio or a CD or opening the window are useful, but only for short periods of time.
Other Costs of Drowsy Driving
In the February, 2017, edition of Sleep, it was estimated that the cost of drowsy driving accidents to our society amounts to a staggering $109 billion annually. But there are other costs to be paid as well, of course – costs which are harder to measure in dollars and cents. Pain and suffering. Loss of companionship. Adjustments in lifestyle. Stress on family members. Compensation for all of these costs can be sought by an experienced drowsy driving lawyer like Mike Stephenson.
When others breach their duty, we keep ours. That’s why when you or your loved one has been harmed by a driver whose negligence caused him to fall asleep at the wheel, you should call McNeely Stephenson. Our diligence and dedication enable us to provide aggressive representation both in the courtroom and in settlement negotiations. Read about some of our successful results for previous clients.