Drowsy driving can be lethal. In 2021 approximately 684 people were killed in crashes involving a drowsy driver, according to the NHTSA. What makes this statistic so tragic is that accident injuries and deaths caused by drowsy driving are completely preventable.

If drowsy driving is so dangerous, why is it so common? We can blame our busy lifestyles. But the answer isn’t that simple. There are other reasons as well. What is certain is that drowsy driving is extremely dangerous. In fact, studies show that sleepy drivers behave similar to or worse than drunk drivers.

If you or a loved one were injured in an accident caused by driver fatigue, call the car accident lawyers at The Dominguez Firm for a FREE consultation at 800-818-1818 now. Please keep reading for more information on drowsy driving and how to prevent it.

What Causes Drowsy Driving?

Drowsy driving can be caused by several factors. Here are some of the most common and more details on each.

  • Sleep deprivation – Plainly speaking, a lack of sleep is one the main causes of drowsy driving. This can be due to sheer exhaustion with no other factors in play. Most doctors recommend adults get at least 7 hours of sleep a night. For teenagers, the number is even higher; at least 8 hours a night.
  • Alcohol /drug consumption – Drinking alcohol or consuming drugs doesn’t just impact your reaction time it can also make you sleepy. Your ability to react to a life-threatening situation can be severely limited with deadly consequences.
  • Medications – Many medications cause drowsiness, yet people take them and still get behind the wheel. And it isn’t just prescription medications that cause drowsiness. Over the counter drugs can cause sleepiness too.
  • Sleep disorders –One of the most common sleep disorders is sleep apnea, but there are many others. Sleep disorders can cause daytime drowsiness. What’s most troubling is that sleep disorders often go undiagnosed.

Is Drowsy Driving as Dangerous as Drunk Driving?

It can be. Both conditions slow down reaction times and impair the ability to make quick decisions on the road. While drunk drivers may become aggressive, drowsy drivers have problems staying awake, which can be just as deadly if they need to use quick reflexes to avoid an accident.

People who stay awake for unusually long periods of time, that is, over 18 hours, are comparable to a drunk driver with a blood alcohol content of 0.05%. And each additional hour that a fatigued driver is awake, the more they mimic the actions of drunk drivers at higher blood alcohol levels. But don’t think that driving after only five or six hours of sleep is safe either. You would have double the chances of getting into a car accident as compared to someone who got their full eight hours of sleep. And if you drive with less than five hours of sleep, your chances of getting into a car accident double again.

What Time of Day Do Most Drowsy Driving Crashes Happen?

Most drowsy driving accidents happen between midnight and 6AM. The other prevalent time for drowsy driving accidents may surprise you, it’s mid to late afternoon, around 1-4PM. This is mainly due to our natural circadian rhythm, or internal 24 body clock. Certain activities can contribute to making us even drowsier during these times of day. One of the most common is eating a heavy lunch or drinking.

Who is Most Likely to Get Into a Drowsy Driving Accident?

Certain people are more likely to be involved in drowsy driving accidents:

  • Night shift workers
  • Long haul truck drivers
  • Teenagers

The long or erratic hours that night shift workers and long haul drivers work can easily cause them to become fatigued. As for teenagers, in the last few years, medical studies have proven that teenagers, who are in their last stages of growth need more sleep than adults. The problem is they don’t often get it. Only recently have state and local governments addressed this. As newly minted drivers, teenagers are also inexperienced and statistically more likely to get into an accident.

What are Some Drowsy Driving Warning Signs?

According to the Sleep Foundation, some warning signs of being too tired to drive include:

  • Difficulty focusing, daydreaming
  • Missing exits or turns
  • Heavy eyelids, frequent blinking
  • Trouble remembering the last few miles
  • Yawning repeatedly
  • Trouble keeping your head up
  • Drifting in lane, tailgating
  • Feeling restless and irritable

Drowsy drivers have less situational awareness and slower reaction times, making driving very dangerous. If you exhibit any of these signs, you should safely pull off the road as soon as you can.

How Do I Stop From Getting Drowsy While Driving?

  • Number 1 is the most obvious: get enough sleep! That’s especially true if you are going on a long drive and will have other family members, including children in your car.
  • For teenagers, they need at least 8-10 hours of sleep a night. They should only drive when they are well-rested, and this is especially true if they are planning a long trip by car.
  • Don’t drink if you know you’ll be driving. This goes double late at night or in the late afternoon.
  • Don’t take over-the-counter or prescription drugs that cause drowsiness before getting behind the wheel. Make sure to read the label before taking anything!
  • If you’re going to be driving long distances or from midnight to 6AM, have someone share the driving with you if you can.
  • If you’re taking a road trip vacation, don’t try to drive long distances in a short amount of time, especially if you’re by yourself. You don’t have to meet any deadlines, so there’s no reason to drive all night or hundreds of miles at once. That puts you and everyone around you at risk.
  • On longer trips, take breaks. The rule of thumb is every 2 hours or 100 miles. Stretch your legs, have some coffee and have a snack before getting back on the road. This would also be an ideal time to switch off with another driver.

What is Sopite Syndrome?

Sopite syndrome is a form of motion sickness. But it isn’t the type of motion sickness you get from being on a boat because it doesn’t involve nausea or dizziness. Instead, a person may experience lethargy, yawning, drowsiness and a tendency to daydream due to a steady sound and movement, like from an engine. A basic example would be a baby who falls asleep from being rocked.  

It can be triggered by sleep deprivation, working long shifts and stress. Those with sleep apnea or depression are more prone to experience it. In some cases, even well-rested people can display symptoms. It is not well understood and can be difficult to diagnose. Due to the symptoms it presents, drivers who have it could be in danger of falling asleep at the wheel and not even know it. Right now, only the aviation industry tests potential pilots for sopite syndrome.

There is no known treatment for sopite syndrome. In light of that, having transportation companies screen potential job candidates, like the aviation industry does, has been proposed.

Is Driving While Tired Illegal?

If the person is so tired that they’re driving in an erratic and dangerous manner, yes. Unlike driving while impaired, there is no test for drowsy driving by itself. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a punishable offense. Someone swaying or crossing lanes because they are falling asleep at the wheel can be cited for reckless driving. That is a misdemeanor offense according to (Vehicle Code § 23103). If a person’s drowsy driving causes an accident with injuries and/or deaths, then the driver would certainly face felony charges.

How Bad is Driving Tired?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), drowsy drivers caused approximately 91,000 traffic accidents in 2017. As noted earlier on this page, that resulted in 795 deaths. In addition, about 50,000 people were injured. These were accidents where the police had to be called to the scene. This number is conservative because it can be difficult to connect drowsy driving with car accidents.

To answer the question, it’s probably worse than we know. A recent study by AAA calculated the percentage of accidents attributable to drowsy driving at 10%, not the 1-2% government studies indicate.

What Activities Have the Highest Crash Risk?

Drowsy driving is not the only risky activity drivers engage in. Virginia Tech University conducted the largest study of its kind regarding driver activity and traffic accidents. Some of the most notable results were:

  • Displaying any sort of extreme emotion while driving, like crying or arguing with someone either in the car or over the phone multiplied the driver’s chances of getting into an accident by 10.
  • Texting or using a vehicle’s touchscreen doubled the driver’s chances of getting into an accident. This type of risky behavior is especially common among teenagers. The study found drivers engaged in this type of distracted driving up to 50% of the time they were in their cars.
  • Drivers who drive well above the posted speed limits are 13 times more likely to get into an accident.
  • Of the 905 crashes studied, driver drowsiness and/or impairment and distractions accounted for 90% of all accidents.
  • One positive note: drivers who had a child in the back seat lowered their chances of getting into a crash.

Call the Car Accident Lawyers at The Dominguez Firm Today

If you were injured in a car accident with a driver who was drowsy, call the car accident lawyers at The Dominguez Firm for a FREE consultation at 800-818-1818. We can travel to you whether it be in a hospital or at home.

We realize this is a stressful time and you may be worried about your finances, especially if your injuries have left you unable to work. You might think you can’t hire our drowsy driving accident injury attorneys. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The Dominguez Firm works on a contingency basis. That means you don’t have to deal with any upfront legal fees or hidden costs to hire us. Instead, we receive a percentage of your final settlement or verdict. That percentage will be clearly stated in the client representation you sign with us. Plus, it won’t change depending on your final settlement or verdict amount. That is, that percentage is set from the beginning.

The Dominguez Firm is a full-service law firm with its own award-winning trial attorneys ready to help you obtain justice. For over 30 years, we have been helping drowsy driving accident victims get the maximum legal compensation they are entitled to. So don’t delay, call us today. And we promise: if there is no recovery, there is no fee!

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— Ashley Magana

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