In 2011, there were 281,788 traffic accidents in Illinois, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation. These accidents caused 918 deaths and 84,172 injuries as well as a combined $5.5 billion cost. Tragically, many of these accidents occurred as a result of preventable driver behaviors such as drowsy (or fatigued) driving.
Drowsy driving is incredibly dangerous. A person who is nodding off behind the wheel presents a major risk to himself and to others. No law can specifically prohibit drowsy driving. However, a driver who causes an accident while fatigued can still be held legally responsible and made to pay damages to victims injured in the crash.
Drowsy Driving Accident Dangers
According to the National Sleep Foundation, drowsy driving has become a major cause of accidents in the U.S. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates indicate that:
- Driver fatigue causes an estimated 100,000 police-reported crashes each year.
- On average, there are 1,550 deaths each year in the U.S. due to drowsy driving.
- Each year, 71,000 people are injured each year as a result of drowsy driving.
- Drowsy driving crashes cause an estimated $12.5 billion in losses in the U.S.
Drowsy driving or driving while fatigued is likely to cause accidents because drivers may:
- Drift into the wrong lane
- Cross a double yellow line or veer onto the wrong side of a divided highway
- Crash into the vehicle in front of them
- Fail to take their foot off the gas and come to a sudden stop
- Fail to respond quickly enough due to slowed reflexes caused by fatigue.
Fatigued Driving Accidents are More Severe
With so many potential problems caused by someone nodding off or driving while impaired by fatigue, it should come as no surprise that drowsy driving crashes happen every day.
Unfortunately, drowsy driving crashes also tend to be very dangerous. In fact, according to an NHTSA report called “Drowsy Driving and Automobile Crashes,” crashes where a driver falls asleep or is nodding off are likely to cause serious injuries or even fatalities.
Drowsy driving is so dangerous because drivers may not brake or swerve to avoid a collision. That increases the chances of a head-on crash. Also, the crashes tend to occur at high speeds since the fatigued driver doesn’t react and slow down.
Due to these factors, and the delayed reaction time caused by fatigue, the NHTSA report indicates that drowsy driving results in more injuries and fatalities than other types of non-alcohol-related and non-fatigue-related crashes.
Who is at Risk for Drowsy Driving Accidents?
Despite the clear dangers of driving while fatigued, many people make the choice to drive when they are tired. In fact, according to Drowsy Driving.org, a 2005 Sleep in America study revealed that 68 percent of adult drivers polled had driven while tired in the prior year. Thirty-seven percent of the drivers who admitted to driving while fatigued reported that they had actually fallen asleep while they were driving, and 13 percent of those who had nodded off said they did so at least once every month.
Drowsy driving is something that the majority of adults seem to do at least occasionally. Certain individuals, however, may be more likely to drive when they are tired or may be at the greatest risk of becoming involved in a drowsy driving crash. According to the NHTSA report, those who may be most at risk of a drowsy driving crash include:
- Young drivers under age 30 (especially young men) – The NHTSA reported on a 1995 study showing that drivers under 30 were involved in almost two-thirds of all drowsy driving accidents although they only represented a quarter of licensed drivers. The NHTSA data also indicated more young men then women drove drowsy. A more recent report by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety also found that the young were at great risk. In their study, 1 in 7 drivers ages 16-24 admitted they had nodded off while driving at least once in the prior year, as compared to 1 in 10 of all drivers surveyed.
- Shift workers (especially older shift workers) – The NHTSA cited a 1992 study indicating that night-shift workers got 1.5 fewer hours of sleep in each 24-hour period than day workers. Those individuals working the night shift who had to sleep during the day were at the greatest risk of a fatigued driving accident.
- Those with untreated sleep conditions including sleep apnea and narcolepsy – While the NHTSA indicates that these conditions could put a driver at a greater risk of a fatigued driving crash, they aren’t invariably linked with impaired driving ability.
- Individuals suffering from chronic or acute sleep loss – The NHTSA indicated that almost half of adults responding to a Gallup survey said they had at least some sleep problems. One in 10 had frequent sleep difficulties.
Those who use medications with a sedating effect, including benzodiazepine anxiolytics, sedating antihistamines and long-acting hypnotics, also present a risk of crashes.
Unfortunately, when teens, shift workers or others make the choice to drive even if they are too tired (or when they continue driving despite nodding off or having difficulty concentrating), their decision can affect other drivers as well. Any driver, therefore, is at risk of a fatigued driving accident because of someone else on the road.
Drivers should be on the lookout for anyone exhibiting potential signs of fatigued driving and should also be aware of the time when drowsy driving crashes are most likely to occur. According to the NHTSA, the times when these accidents are most likely include late nights, early mornings or mid-afternoon, especially when the driver is alone in the car.
Seeking Compensation After a Drowsy Driving Accident
Unlike with drunk driving, there is no clear and easy test to determine when or if a driver was driving while fatigued at the time of a crash. There are also no clear laws specifically banning drowsy driving. Therefore, drowsy driving accidents can become legally complex.
If you or a loved one has been the victim of a drowsy driving crash, you can recover compensation from the driver who hurt you if he was considered to be negligent in a way that led to your injury. Driving while fatigued can be a form of negligent or reckless behavior, especially if no reasonable average driver would have made the choice to drive in that situation.
The burden, however, is on the injured victim to prove that the other driver was negligent in driving while drowsy. Drowsy driving cases, therefore, need to be investigated carefully.
Drowsy driving accidents can be investigated by law enforcement. Those who wish to take legal action against the fatigued driver can also contact accident reconstruction experts and can look for evidence including:
- Failure to sleep
- Witness testimony of erratic behavior such as veering across lanes or off the road
- An admission by the drowsy driver that he was fatigued or falling asleep
- Skid marks or other evidence from the accident scene that can indicate a lack of attempt to swerve or stop.
Building a drowsy driving case and getting the evidence you need can be complicated, so it is crucial to have legal assistance. Contact the drowsy driving accident lawyers at Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard P.C., today for a free consultation.