Drowsy driving is a serious issue affecting millions of people each year and can lead to dangerous road accidents.
This article will discuss driver fatigue, how it can impact your ability to stay safe on the road, and what to do if you or a family member becomes a personal injury victim.
What is Driver Fatigue?
Driver fatigue is a state of mental or physical exhaustion resulting from prolonged driving periods without rest, sleep, or proper breaks. It’s an impairment to a person’s ability to concentrate or respond quickly while driving.
A study found that being awake for 17-19 hours has similar effects on your body as having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.05%. This means two things:
(1) reaction time is up to 50% slower for some tests, and the level of accuracy on the road was significantly poorer than at a BAC level of 0.05%, and
(2) if you are fatigued while driving, it is just as dangerous as if you were under the influence of alcohol.
What Causes Driver Fatigue?
A variety of factors causes driver fatigue:
- Not getting enough sleep: Sleep deprivation is one of the most common causes of driver fatigue. Late-night parties, shift work, or even medical conditions like insomnia cause a lack of sleep. People who do not get adequate hours of sleep can become drowsy during the day, making them more prone to experiencing fatigue while driving. Drivers must get enough rest to stay alert and focused on the roads.
- Changes in your sleep/wake cycle: Drivers may also experience fatigue due to changes in their sleep/wake cycle, such as changing shifts. Individuals traveling across time zones can experience jetlag. This can disrupt their natural circadian rhythm, leading to a decrease in alertness.
- Long periods of inactivity: Sitting or driving for long periods can also lead to driver fatigue. People who spend extended periods sitting down without movement or mental stimulation often enter ‘microsleeps’ where they briefly drift off while still awake. Similarly, sitting in an uncomfortable position or driving through monotonous landscapes for long periods can also contribute to driver fatigue, meaning that truck drivers can be disproportionately affected.
- Sleep disorders or medication: Certain medications, such as antihistamines, can induce drowsiness, impairing a driver’s ability to concentrate and thus increasing the risk of driver fatigue. Those suffering from sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea or narcolepsy may find it challenging to achieve restorative amounts of sleep, which could lead to exhaustion on the road and excessive daytime sleepiness. People with existing health conditions must check with their doctor before driving.
Prevalence of Accidents Caused by Driver Fatigue
The prevalence of accidents caused by driver fatigue is alarmingly high.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drowsy driving is estimated to be responsible for over 6,000 fatal crashes in the United States annually.
Even more alarming is that, according to the National Sleep Foundation, over half of American adult drivers admit to regularly driving while feeling drowsy.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports an estimated 100,000 crashes per year are caused by drowsy driving. These crashes are responsible for almost 800 deaths and 50,000 injuries yearly.
Unfortunately, these figures are likely even higher due to under-reported incidents.
The organization also reports that fatigue-related crashes leading to injury or fatality cost society an immense $109 billion yearly, not even factoring in the property damage.
The impact of drowsy driving is particularly pronounced among young adults aged 16 to 24 years old; this demographic is twice as likely as other age groups to be involved in a car crash due to fatigue.
Drowsy drivers are likelier to speed, tailgate, and make dangerous lane changes—actions that can easily lead to severe collisions and devastating consequences for drivers and pedestrians.
Who Is Affected by Driver Fatigue?
Driver fatigue can affect anyone, but certain groups are more vulnerable to its effects than others.
Commercial vehicle drivers, shift workers, and truck drivers are especially at risk due to their long hours on the road and the irregularity of their sleep schedules.
A report shows that commercial passenger vehicle (CPV) drivers are four and a half times more likely to be part of a fatal accident than other drivers and motor vehicles. Another study shows an alarmingly high number of CPV accidents took place in early morning, between 2 am and 4 am, when commercial drivers had often been up for duty for up to 11 hours.
Similarly, shift workers and truck drivers have also been linked with a higher risk of becoming involved in fatal crashes due to driver fatigue.
Special attention must be paid to these individuals to ensure they get enough rest between shifts and take adequate precautions while driving. Employers must be aware of the legal requirements they must meet when providing safe work environments for employees who drive or operate vehicles.
Regulations such as maximum driving hours and minimum rest breaks may help reduce the risk of driver fatigue and ultimately lead to safer roads for everyone.
Symptoms of Drowsy Driving
You know you’re experiencing drowsiness while driving when you have the following signs of fatigue:
- Yawning frequently or nodding off: One of the most common signs of drowsy driving is a persistent need to yawn, coupled with intense eye fatigue that often leads to closing the eyes for brief moments. Drowsy drivers cannot keep their heads from nodding involuntarily, even if they have just taken a break.
- Missing road signs or turns: When drivers miss out on turning points and don’t spot road signs ahead, it’s a clear sign of drowsiness. Because drowsy drivers’ attention spans are shorter, they are less likely to notice environmental changes like indicators or lane markers. This affects decision-making on the road, leading drowsy drivers to drift out of the lane or miss a turn altogether.
- Drifting out of the lane: Fatigued drivers unintentionally drift away from their current position on the road, whether crossing into different lanes or even onto the shoulder. They could be going into a microsleep state, which usually only lasts for a few seconds but still puts other motorists in danger. As fatigue sets in, it becomes increasingly difficult for drowsy drivers to maintain control over their vehicles due to reduced reaction times, coordination, and muscle strength.
How to Combat Driver Fatigue
When feeling tired and sleepy behind the wheel, remember to pull off the road at a safe location. Get adequate sleep before continuing your journey. Make sure you have enough rest before long-distance drives. And take regular breaks at least every two hours during extended trips to remain well-rested and alert while driving.
Pay attention to any signs of physical or mental exhaustion to stay safe while behind the wheel and reduce the chance of getting into an accident due to driver fatigue. Most importantly, avoid alcohol or drugs before driving.
If you want to combat driver fatigue, here are more ways to do it:
- Ensuring adequate levels of sleep: It’s essential to get enough restful sleep—at least 7 to 9 hours a night for adults—and take regular breaks throughout the day. Make sure you have a consistent daily sleep schedule and adhere to it. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and other stimulants before bed to improve the quality of your sleep.
- Thoroughly read medication levels: Before driving, it’s critical to check all medication labels closely since many over-the-counter drugs and prescriptions can cause drowsiness or dizziness. Commonly prescribed medications like antihistamines, muscle relaxants, antidepressants, and even heartburn medications can have strong side effects that can be dangerous while behind the wheel. Read the label carefully and, if necessary, consult your doctor or pharmacist for advice on how to manage side effects while driving.
- Employers must encourage off-the-job safety programs: Employers play an essential role in combating driver fatigue. Many are now offering programs to help employees stay safe on the road. Some employers hold educational seminars on fatigue management and provide resources like stress management tools and online courses. Employers can institute safety programs and policies like taking regular breaks during long drives and ensuring they’re not operating a vehicle if they feel tired or ill. They must also educate their staff on symptoms of fatigue—such as blurred vision, difficulty focusing, and yawning excessively—so workers know when it’s time to take a break before getting behind the wheel again.
If You’ve Been in a Drowsy Driving Accident, You May Be Entitled to Compensation
Drivers who experience driver fatigue are more likely to make mistakes, be less attentive, and have slower reaction times—all of which increase their risk of being involved in an accident.
Drivers must be aware of their actions and environment to prevent these incidents.
If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident caused by fatigued driving, it is crucial to contact a skilled catastrophic injury attorney as soon as possible. Frantz Law Group’s attorneys have decades of experience handling these complex cases and are committed to helping you obtain the maximum compensation allowed under the law. We can evaluate your case and provide personalized advice regarding your legal options so you know precisely what steps to take to protect your rights and interests.
The Frantz Law Group specializes in catastrophic injury cases, with attorneys who understand how devastating these types of accidents can be for victims and their families. We have extensive experience helping individuals and families get the compensation they deserve for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more. Our team is dedicated to providing compassionate legal guidance throughout the entire process.
Don’t wait—contact the Frantz Law Group today for a free consultation and find out how we can help you get the justice you deserve following an injury caused by driver fatigue.