This week, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) together with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes for Health (NIH) are working to increase public awareness of the dangers of drowsy driving.
They’re coordinating a national public awareness campaign, “National Drowsy Driving Prevention Week.” The goal this year is to protect Americans from being seriously injured or killed in a motor vehicle accident caused by a drowsy driver.
(For details on what “drowsy driving” involves, read our previous post.)
Statistics Underestimate Number of Fatal Drowsy Driving Accidents
While it is certain that drowsy driving causes hundreds of fatal traffic accidents in this country each year, frustrated researchers acknowledge that it is not possible to know with accuracy exactly how many people die each year because of drowsy driving.
There’s no biological test available for drowsy driving, like there is for driving while under the influence of alcohol (the “Breathalyzer”).
Researchers try and determine the number of Drowsy Driving Fatal Crashes by reviewing police reports where police officers have noted the driver fell asleep at the wheel or was sleepy or suffering from fatigue at the time of the accident. Obviously, police officers cannot know every instance of a drowsy driver, particularly if the driver has been a fatal victim of the crash.
Which leads researchers to rely on other data sources, like surveys of drivers who have been in an auto accident, asking them to self-report on whether or not they were drowsy driving at the time of the incident. Again, this is not the most reliable of information sources.
Indeed, today researchers admit that “traditional measures of drowsy drving may significantly underestimate the prevalence of the issue.”
Particular Accident Facts Determine Drowsy Driving as the Cause of the Fatal Crash
So how can the accident victim (or their families) establish that drowsy driving was the reason behind the fatal motor vehicle accident?
This is where personal injury legal teams march past research studies, as they focus upon the individual case and accident scenario.
It is possible to discover drowsy driving as the accident cause. How? For instance, tallying shift work of the driver after a crash gives some suggestion that he may have been driving impaired by sleepiness or sleep-deprivation. A past diagnosis of sleep apnea may also shed some light on drowsy driving being the cause of the crash.
Today, the determination of drowsy driving as the cause of a fatal motor vehicle accident depends more upon solid investigation of the underlying facts of the particular accident. Overall research data falls short of the focus given in a specific claim and lawsuit accident reconstruction.
Drowsy Driving and Fatal Accidents in Indiana and Illinois
The sad reality is that there will be people who die this year and next year in fatal motor vehicle accidents which are 100% preventable. People who live and work in our communities will perish in accidents caused because a driver falls asleep at the wheel, or because the driver has a critical lapse of attention due to drowsiness or fatigue.
It’s a serious and tragic problem facing anyone on the roads of Illinois and Indiana. Lots of people on the roads with us, and our loved ones, are driving drowsy. They are a danger to us all.
How many, really? A poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation revealed that as many as a quarter of drivers (27%) admitted to driving to or from work while they were extremely tired and fatigued, or downright sleepy. They admitted to doing this several times a month.
It is known that after someone is awake for 18 hours straight, they will be driving impaired if they get behind the wheel. How impaired are they? It’s the equivalent of a blood alcohol count (BAC) of .05. In Indiana and Illinois, anyone driving with a BAC of .08 is considered legally drunk.
Those who work irregular hours, where their bodies cannot rely upon a regular sleep schedule week after week, are more likely to drive drowsy. That’s a lot of workers here in our community – Hoosiers who work jobs like:
- Bakers who bake bread and pastries on the night shift for bakeries and restaurants;
- Custodians who clean offices, shops, stores, etc., during the night outside of business hours;
- Drivers who deliver goods as well as drivers of taxis, buses, etc.;
- Child care workers who help with the little ones at places like St. Joseph’s Carmelite Home;
- Security guards, police, firefighters, and other first responders;
- Industrial workers (machinists, package handlers, etc.).
Commercial Truck Drivers
Of particular concern, given the huge volume of commercial trucks, big rigs, semi-trucks, and tractor trailers that share our local roads with us here in the “Crossroads of America,” are the truckers who may be prone to drowsy driving.
Commercial truck drivers are considered to be at a higher risk than other drivers for drowsy driving. This is not only because they are working on deadlines and may push to get their cargo to its destination despite feeling tired. It is also because truck drivers of the big trucks (big rigs, semis) are known to drive with physical conditions like insomnia and sleep apnea, both of which can contribute to drowsy driving and fatal accidents.
See, e.g., the article written by Krithika Varagur for HuffPo entitled “Untreated Sleep Apnea Makes Truck Drivers 5 Times As Likely To Crash, “ and published in May 2016.
Fatal Car Crashes Can Be Prevented
Drowsy driving fatalities are particularly tragic because they are so easily prevented. Drivers who are tired or haven’t had enough sleep get behind the wheel of a heavy motor vehicle and ignore the danger that results from doing so. Innocent victims die as a result.
In both Indiana and Illinois, there are personal injury laws and wrongful death statutes that help victims of drowsy driving traffic accidents in Indiana and Illinois find justice for what they have suffered. Families (spouses, children) can also seek legal redress for the tragedy of a fatal car accident.
In many situations, others may share in the liability for the crash alongside the driver. Trucking companies, for instance, may have legal liability for their truck driver falling asleep at the wheel or driving drowsy.
This week, let’s educate ourselves and warn our loved ones about how dangerous it may be to share the roads with a driver who is driving drowsy. The risk is particularly high when most people are driving to and from work here in Indiana and Illinois. Please be careful out there!