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July 13th, 2018

The Real Risks of Driving While Fatigued

It may not seem like drowsy driving is a dangerous act, but it happens more often and contributes to more accidents that you may suspect.  We reveal more about the dangers of drowsy driving, including risk factors that make us feel tired and facts about drowsy driving risks. 

What Is Drowsy Driving?

Drowsy driving occurs when a person who is drowsy, tired, or fatigued operates a motor vehicle. A person can experience drowsiness at any time of the day or night during dips in their circadian rhythm.

How Common Is Drowsy Driving?

You may be surprised to learn that the NHTSA estimated that drowsy driving caused an average of 41,000 injuries and 800 deaths in 2017.1 According to a study conducted in 2005 by The National Sleep Foundation, 60% of adult drivers admitted to driving while drowsy in the previous year.2

Unfortunately, drowsy driving is rampant in the United States. There are many reasons for this. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine states that drivers may not get sufficient hours of sleep due shift work. They may also be at a life stage where they need more sleep, such as during teenage years.3

Other reasons for drowsy driving include having high blood alcohol content before getting behind the wheel, having sleep disorders like sleep apnea, and taking prescription medications that cause drowsiness.

Why Is Drowsy Driving Dangerous?

Drowsy driving is dangerous for everyone involved, for a number of reasons.

Accidents Can Happen in Seconds

Driving while drowsy causes drivers to lose full control of their vehicle very easily. Once a driver loses control, it only takes a few seconds to get into a single- or multi-vehicle accident. 

Drivers Are Unaware of or Unconcerned About Microsleep Dangers

Although a driver may assume they can stay awake while driving, it is highly probable that they will microsleep. Microsleep is defined as one or more periods of sleep that last between a few to several seconds. 

Microsleep is very dangerous; an episode can occur without the driver realizing what’s happening. It’s also dangerous because it can happen any time.

Drivers May Assume They Have to Be Asleep to Cause Accidents

Another common assumption is that the term “drowsy driving” means that the driver is asleep, but the reality is that a person doesn’t have to fall asleep to be a danger behind the wheel. 

Accidents are just as likely to occur if a driver succumbs to microsleep as when the driver’s eyes are open and they’re only feeling sleepy to a slight to moderate degree.

Drivers May Not Think They’re Impaired

Some drivers may not equate drowsiness with impairment, but, in fact, many studies have revealed that the level of mental impairment associated with sleep deprivation is very similar to that of someone who is drunk. 

Impairment affects the reaction time of a driver because they are less attentive to what’s happening around them than a sober or awake driver would be.

This lack of attentiveness translates to a slower reaction time and worsened decision-making. As well, impairment makes drivers more easily distracted.

Accidents Can Occur at High Speed

While accidents involving drowsy drivers can occur when a vehicle is moving slowly, the most severe accidents typically occur when a driver is traveling at higher speeds, such as on a highway.

Accident Avoidance Does Not Occur

When a driver has nodded off or is drowsy, they’re not reacting as they normally would to occurrences on the road. Often, a drowsy driver cannot or will not take steps to avoid getting into an accident, such as braking or swerving, until it’s too late.

Single Vehicle Crashes Are Common

Although crashes caused by drowsy driving can occur at any time, many also occur late at night or in the early morning when other vehicle traffic is scarce. A driver who falls asleep behind the wheel, becomes involved in a single-vehicle accident, and is rendered unconscious, for example, will be unable to call emergency services for help.

Inattentiveness Can Cause More Types of Crashes

When a person drives a vehicle while tired, they can be at risk of a higher number of crash types. Inattentiveness behind the wheel can lead to drifting into oncoming lanes, onto the shoulder, or into a ditch.

A tired driver may find themselves shocked awake when their tires make contact with rumble strips, and this can cause them to lose control as the result of over-steering to get back into the driving lane. 

Inattentiveness in terms of road conditions can also cause more types of crashes with drowsy drivers. Snow and rain can make roads more slippery and, therefore, more dangerous to a tired driver who brakes too suddenly or who oversteers.

The fact that more types of crashes can occur as the result of drowsy driving can translate to a significantly elevated risk of serious injury.

Drivers May Dismiss Drowsiness Signs

Drowsiness has many signs that drivers may dismiss. A driver may begin to yawn frequently, or their eyelids may feel heavy. They may also be blinking a lot, may not be maintaining consistent speed, or may not remember the last few miles they drove.

However, they may not consider these symptoms to be dangerous, which makes them dangerous to other drivers.

Can You Prevent Drowsy Driving?

Drowsy driving presents many dangers to all drivers, and you can ensure you’re alert behind the wheel by getting enough sleep in 24 hours. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to know when you’re sharing the road with a drowsy driver. 

If you or someone you care about has been involved in an accident that was caused by a drowsy driver and sustained injury as a result, there is something you can do: You can call the experienced Houston car accident attorneys at Schechter, Shaffer & Harris.

When you do, you’ll have a century of legal experience and 50 years of car accident case experience behind you. Get the compensation you deserve; contact Schechter, Shaffer & Harris for a free consultation today.

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