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Drowsy Driving: The Facts And Dangers

Updated on: 2/17/2020

The National Sleep Foundation has chosen November 1-8 as Drowsy Driving Prevention Week. Washington Governor Jay Inslee has also emphasized drowsy driving awareness, calling attention to the startling statistics.

In the United States, drowsy drivers cause more than 100,000 crashes per year, resulting in 40,000 injuries and 1,550 fatalities. Those numbers are all up significantly from just four years ago. From 2011 to 2011 in Washington State, there were 64 fatal collisions and 308 serious injury collisions investigated where a drowsy driver was involved.

According to a poll, 60 percent of adult drivers in America said that they had driven a vehicle while feeling drowsy, and over a third reported falling asleep at the wheel. This is not only deadly, it’s illegal. If you fall asleep at the wheel in Washington State, you could receive a $550 fine for Negligent Driving

"Drowsy drivers put everyone on the road in danger," Washington State Patrol Chief John. R. Batiste said in a release. "This form of impaired driving can be prevented by taking some easy, sensible steps before getting behind the wheel of a vehicle."

Drowsy Driving As Bad As Drunk Driving?

There are plenty of laws on the books aimed at combating drunk driving. Police officers can test the blood and breath of drivers who have been drinking, and DUIs come with hefty fines and even jail time. Bars and restaurants are discouraged from selling liquor to obviously intoxicated patrons by dram shop laws, which make businesses liable for damages a drunk driver might cause after getting behind the wheel. 

But no breathalyzer test exists for drowsy driving, so police have few ways of getting dangerous drivers off the road before they cause an accident.

Studies have found that drivers who are too sleepy cause almost as many accidents as drunk drivers. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety estimates that 21 percent of fatal crashes in the United States are caused by drowsy drivers, and the number is rising as Americans work longer hours and get less sleep.  

Even the Mythbusters experimented with drowsy driving; the two sleep-deprived cast members found that their driving suffered more after 30 hours without sleep than it did after they had downed multiple shots of alcohol. Drowsy drivers can experience a dangerous condition called microsleep, in which they doze off for a few seconds and wake back up without even realizing that they weren’t watching the road.

Who Is At Risk For Drowsy Driving?

The National Sleep Foundation says the top risk groups for drowsy driving are:

  • Young people: Adults between 18-19 are the most at-risk group for drowsy driving. Men are twice as likely as women to fall asleep while driving (22% vs. 12%).
  • Shift workers: Working the night shift and rotating shift workers need to be especially careful. 
  • Commercial drivers: At least 15 percent of semi-truck crashes involved fatigue.

Undiagnosed and untreated sleep disorders, like insomnia and sleep apnea, can contribute to daytime drowsiness and increase the risk of microsleep episodes.

Wondering if you are too tired to drive? Here are some warning signs that people should watch for:

  • Can’t remember the last few miles driven
  • Hit a rumble strip or drift from your lane
  • Keep pulling your vehicle back into the lane
  • Find yourself daydreaming or not paying attention
  • Yawn repeatedly or keep shifting in your seat
  • Have difficulty focusing or keeping your eyes open and your head up
  • Tailgate or miss traffic signs
  • Barely avoid collisions with objects or other cars

Tips To Prevent Drowsy Driving

The National Sleep Foundation urges drivers not to get behind the wheel when they’re too tired to safely operate a vehicle. If you feel that you’re too drowsy to drive safely, stop driving, take a nap, and drink a cold beverage containing caffeine. Public transit, taxi cabs and rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft are all safe alternatives to driving while drowsy. If you regularly feel too tired to drive safely, talk to a doctor about sleep disorders.

Some other tips to avoid drowsy driving:

  • Get plenty of sleep before a long trip
  • Use the buddy system to keep you awake and share driving duties
  • Don’t take medications that cause drowsiness as a side effect
  • Don’t drive when you would normally be sleeping

Even though drowsy drivers aren’t under the influence of anything besides their own sleep deprivation, courts have found that falling asleep at the wheel is negligent driving. Multi-million-dollar settlements have been awarded to victims of crashes caused by a driver who was asleep or sleepy at the wheel. Don’t become a statistic. Make sure you’re alert enough to be on the road.

If you or a loved one has been injured or killed by a drowsy driver’s negligence, Washington State personal injury attorney Chris Davis and the legal team at the Davis Law Group, P.S., will hold the responsible party accountable and get you the compensation you deserve to cover medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Davis Law Group's professional, knowledgeable team will prepare an aggressive legal strategy and will give your case the personal attention you deserve throughout every step of the process, from filing an insurance claim to any necessary litigation.

Contact Davis Law Group today for a free case evaluation by calling (206) 727-4000, use the chat feature below or fill out the contact form on this page.

Chris Davis
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Chris Davis is the founder of Davis Law Group, P.S. in Seattle, WA.
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