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Trucker feeling sleepy and tired after long ride.

Partner/Attorney
Murray & Murray
419-624-3000

Driving while sleep-deprived, often called drowsy driving, causes drivers to be less attentive. At its worst, it causes fatalities. With drowsy driving, an individual’s reaction time is altered as is his ability to make decisions.  Now more than ever, everyone needs to practice caution when behind the wheel, protecting against these inattentive drivers.

When the COVID-19 crisis began, the Federal government relaxed regulations on the commercial trucking industry so drivers could swiftly transport goods and services for COVID-19 emergency relief.  For decades, through the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Hours of Service (HOS) laws, truckers were limited to 14-hour shifts with no more than 11 consecutive driving hours.  The rules were designed to help reduce crashes due to fatigue.  However, until at least September 14, the HOS laws are suspended, making it possible for these truckers to work on the road longer and possibly on fewer hours of sleep.

While public health and the immediate availability of medical items during the pandemic should stay paramount, it is also important public safety does too.  In addition to commercial truckers, all drivers need to be cautious and be aware of the hazards of driving while sleep-deprived. 

Even before the FMCSA suspended the laws, our highways and by-ways were filled with unsafe drivers.  While the National Highway Safety Administration estimates between 80,000 and 90,000 police-reported crashes involve drowsy drivers each year, there is broad agreement this is an underestimate of the impact of driving while sleep-deprived. 

According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), one out of 25 adults aged 18 years and older surveyed reported that they had fallen asleep while driving, and the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety released a study that showed that drowsy driving was involved in about one in six deadly crashes. Drivers ages 16 to 24 are at greatest risk, especially young males. Other potential sleep-deprived drivers include shift workers, commercial drivers and people with untreated sleep disorders such as sleep apnea.

Effect Is The Same As Drunk Driving

Drivers who have been awake for an extended period often have characteristics of a drunk driver.  The CDC states that being awake for at least 18 hours is the same as having a blood alcohol content of 0.05 percent, and being awake for at least 24 hours is equal to having a blood alcohol content of 0.10 percent.  This 24-hour sleep deprivation effect is actually higher than the legal limit for alcohol in all states.

Signs Of Sleep-Deprived Drivers

Since drowsy drivers could show a loss of coordination, judgment and reaction time while driving, drivers need to be alert to and stay away from any driver who is swerving, moving at high speeds or driving at extra-low speeds.  And, according to the National Highway Safety Administration, there are several commonalities between drowsy driving crashes:

  • These types of crashes happen most often early in the morning, mid-afternoon or after midnight.
  • They occur on high-speed roadways.
  • They involve a driver traveling alone.
  • There is most often no evidence of braking.

Don’t Be A Drowsy Driver

Sleep-deprived drivers themselves seem to have commonalities as well.  During these extraordinary, stressful times, there is no doubt people across the country are having trouble sleeping.  Therefore, everyone needs to be aware of signs which indicate someone may be a hazardous, drowsy driver by watching for these symptoms:

  • Yawning or blinking frequently.
  • Difficulty remembering the last few miles driven.
  • Missing an exit or turn.
  • Drifting from the lane of travel.
  • Hitting a rumble strip. 

If a person witnesses or experiences any of these signs, then pull over to a safe place and take at least a 15-20 minute nap, find a place to sleep overnight, or change drivers. 

The only way to avoid drowsy driving is to get enough sleep. One should secure a solid, eight-hour night of sleep before venturing out on the road.  Whether someone always has difficulty sleeping or the pandemic has caused one to experience insomnia for the first time, the National Sleep Foundation has a variety of articles, tips and exercises to help everyone get a good night’s sleep.

If you or a loved one is involved in a traffic crash due to a sleep-deprived or distracted driver, contact the personal injury attorneys today at Murray & Murray to discuss your legal options.

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