Many hazards associated with driving while fatigued

Drowsy driving can result in injury-causing or fatal car accidents.

Every day, millions of Americans hit the road without having gotten adequate rest the night before. Some of them are in small passenger vehicles, and some are in huge commercial trucks (this is a common problem for truck drivers since their lifestyle can make it difficult to sleep and their employers may encourage them driving too many hours in order to make more deliveries). Thankfully, many of these tired drivers are able to stay awake and make it to their destination without incident, but others aren't so lucky.

Driving while fatigued - perhaps better known as "drowsy driving" - results in an estimated minimum of 100,000 car accidents each year (an average of 274 per day). The real number of crashes directly related to falling asleep behind the wheel could actually be much higher, though, as they are often attributed to other causes instead. Data provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that more than 1,500 people are killed and another 71,000 injured in drowsy driving accidents annually, with an average cost of $12.5 billion in lost wages, property damage, medical costs and other related expenses.

Most of us aren't aware that driving while fatigued can cause impairment, slowed reaction times and difficult concentrating akin to drunk driving. The National Sleep Foundation reports that being awake for 17 hours before climbing behind the wheel impairs a driver in a similar way to having a blood alcohol content of .05; that number doubles to .10 when the driver has been awake for 24 hours. If you drive without enough sleep, you might not be able to quickly respond to changes in weather, traffic levels and road surfaces, nor will you be able to take swift evasive action to avoid sudden stops, cars pulling out in front of you, animals, bicyclists or pedestrians in your path.

Warning signs

If you suspect that you are too tired to safely operate a vehicle, you are better off not driving until you have gotten some rest. Most adults need at least seven hours of sleep each night, so unless you have had that much, you run the risk of nodding off or having slowed reaction times, both of which can cause accidents. Should you notice any of the following warning signs while behind the wheel, it's time to pull over for a nap or let someone else drive:

  • Uncontrollable yawning or the urge to rub your eyes
  • Nodding off
  • Being unable to account for the passage of time or distance ("zoning out" or not remembering how you got from one place to another)
  • Feeling restless, irritable or annoyed
  • Daydreaming/inability to focus
  • Missing exits or turns

Paying attention to the warning signs of fatigue can literally mean the difference between life and death for you, passengers in your vehicle and fellow motorists. Tragically, not everyone takes such precautions, which is why there are so many drowsy driving accidents each year. If you are unlucky enough to be involved in an accident caused by a fatigued driver, you have legal options to hold them accountable for their irresponsible and negligent actions. For more information, contact the Copeland Law Firm by calling toll free 573-397-5277 or sending an email.