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Driver Fatigue Car Accidents: Why Are They Still Common?

Driving while fatigued has become a serious issue in America, where the risks involved often produce tragic results. Drowsy driving typically occurs through overworking, the use of medications, alcohol consumption, and untreated medical conditions, including sleep disorders.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 1 out of every 25 drivers, 18 years and older, say they have fallen asleep behind the wheel at least once in the last 30 days. Statistics by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2013 indicated that the more than 70,000 accidents occurred because of driver fatigue, producing 800 deaths and more than 44,000 injuries.

Who is Most Likely to Drive Fatigued?

It seems evident that commercial truckers and drivers operating buses and semi-tractor-trailers are likely to drive while fatigued due to long hours behind the wheel. However, other factors could lead to drowsy driving, including:

  • Driving during overnight hours when the driver typically sleeps
  • Operating a vehicle while lacking quality sleep
  • Driving while medicated, such as taking allergy medications, sleeping pills, cold medicines, and tranquilizers that are known to cause drowsiness

No one is immune to driving while fatigued. Motor vehicle accidents involving drowsy driving by seniors tend to occur most often during midafternoon driving. Young individuals, especially males between 16 and 29 years of age, are most likely to drive fatigued -- as are shift workers that drive after working irregular hours or the night shift.

Vehicle accidents that occur due to drowsy driving significantly increase the potential risk of severe injury or death. These accidents often involve a failure to swerve out of the way or an inability to brake or slow down to reduce the impact before the crash.

The Signs and Symptoms of Fatigued Driving

Sleep deprivation can cause significant problems when operating a vehicle. A lack of sleep can slow the driver’s reaction time, impair their judgment, and take away the ability to pay attention and focus on the road. The sleep-deprived often lack the coordination and reflexes required to make quick decisions on the road.

The most common warning signs and symptoms of driving fatigued include:

  • Excessive yawning
  • Challenges with keeping the eyes open and focused on the road
  • Sensations of tiredness, sleepiness, irritability, exhaustion, or feeling groggy
  • Veering out of the lane or off the road
  • Experiencing wandering or disconnected thoughts
  • Driving with back tension, burning eyes, or shallow breathing
  • Periodic nodding or struggling to keep your head up
  • Driving inappropriately by speeding, ignoring traffic signs, or tailgating
  • Experiencing a brief lapse in memory
  • Diminished reaction time

Preventing Driver Fatigue

Taking necessary steps and making commonsense decisions can help every driver avoid having a minor to catastrophic accident from drowsy driving. Preventative measures include:

  • Ensure you get plenty of sleep and ongoing rest before driving, especially long distances
  • Continuous hydration and eating when hungry can improve coordination
  • Maintain an adequate distance away from others veering off the roadway, who might be drowsy driving
  • Avoid even mild alcohol consumption and forego taking any prescribed or over-the-counter medication that causes drowsiness or sleepiness (check the label)
  • Manage stress, use quieting methods to calm down
  • Rideshare, take a taxi or forego driving until you feel more alert and able to drive safely
  • Make a wise decision to pull over and stop when you feel like you might be sleepy or tired

The Legal Consequences of Driving Fatigued

Causing an accident through driver fatigue can have severe consequences regarding the health and safety of all on the roadway. Judges and juries often consider an individual driving drowsy as negligent and hold them responsible for damages, wrongful death, and other losses.

The court system defines negligence as the failure to provide a level of care that anyone else through ordinary prudence exercises during a similar circumstance. Entities other than the drowsy driver might also be found ‘at fault’ for the accident. These entities might include the company of the truck driver or taxicab that hired and failed to monitor and instruct the driver about following the rules of the road.

Many times, driver fatigue goes unreported, especially if the motorist is reluctant to admit they were drowsy before the accident to avoid potential liability. Sometimes law enforcement can recognize the signs and symptoms of fatigued driving when investigating an accident. However, it is often challenging to identify tiredness or fatigue.

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