Fatigued and sleepy drivers are contributing to more fatal car accidents each year than previously believed. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data analyzed by AAA's Foundation for Traffic Safety, the number of car and truck accidents caused by fatigued drivers is up from 3.6 percent of fatal crashes in 1994 to nearly 17 percent of fatal crashes in the U.S.
Based on the AAA 2010 study results, two out of every five drivers self-reported falling asleep while driving in the past 12 months. When drivers aren't alert, they are significantly more likely to be injured or killed in a serious car accident.
The consequences of driving while tired do not get nearly the same level of attention as driving while texting or driving under the influence of drugs, and yet the new numbers show an astonishingly high number of accidents caused by this preventable circumstance. Statistics related to drowsy and tired driving are also largely underreported because drivers involved in accidents fail to report their tiredness to police.
There are two common categories of drowsy or sleepy drivers — truck drivers who violate hour-of-service (HOS) regulations and exceed the allowable number of hours on the road are more likely to be too fatigued to drive safely on the road, and car drivers who drive when they shouldn't be driving because of sleep deprivation or tiredness.
Both car and truck drivers need to be more aware of the risks of fatigued driving. Fatigued drivers can take steps to prevent themselves from being part of a statistic that contributes to more than 100,000 car accidents each year throughout the country, according to the NHTSA.
Truck Drivers Violate HOS Requirements and Drive When Fatigued
While fatigue is a large issue for non-commercial drivers, studies show that 30 percent of fatal commercial truck crashes are caused by fatigue.
Equally troubling is the violation of HOS regulations by commercial truck drivers. The purpose of the HOS regulations is to limit the number of hours behind the wheel and, in turn, reduce the chance of a truck driver driving while overly tired and fatigued by excessive hours on the road. Instead, truck drivers regularly drive when too tired, flouting the HOS regulations and negligently causing truck accidents.
To combat fatigued driving, the North American Fatigue Management Program (NAFMP) has been studying driver fatigue for more than 10 years. Among the pilot programs and recommendations suggested by the NAFMP, use of a formal fatigue management program by every commercial trucking company in North America is the most highly sought initiative.
A fatigue management program, established by individual commercial trucking companies and ideally enforced by the government, would include special rules for truck drivers. The fatigue management program would include:
- Testing and treatment options for sleep disorders
- Greater evaluations of off-duty actions, such as hours of sleep when off-duty
- Formal guidelines for the consequences of violating HOS
- Informational brochures and documents for all employees
Other possible solutions to address the problem of fatigued truck drivers include the installation of electronic HOS tracking devices in all semi trucks, as suggested by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and electronic alertness monitoring systems.
Car Drivers, Especially Young Drivers, at Risk for Fatigued Driving Accidents
All drivers on the road are at risk for being too tired to drive. From sleep deprivation to sleep disorders and medication interactions, there are countless reasons that a driver may be driving while drowsy. Long road trips are also increasing in frequency as many Americans have opted to travel by car, rather than by plane, during the most recent recession.
Young drivers are more likely to drive while drowsy, the NHTSA also reported. Young men, in particular, commonly drive during the late night hours and are more prone to take risks when driving. Drivers under the age of 30 accounted for two-thirds of the crashes caused by drowsy driving, based on a 1995 study.
According to AAA Foundation President, Peter Kissinger, driving while sleepy "decreases awareness, slows reaction time, and impairs judgment … contributing to the possibility of a crash." In many ways, driving while fatigued is as dangerous, and according to groups such as the National Sleep Foundation, more dangerous, than driving under the influence of drugs or consuming more than six alcoholic beverages before driving.
Signs of fatigued driving are excessive daydreaming or distraction while driving, the inability to keep one's head up or eyes open, and drifting between lanes. When a driver begins to experience any of these warning signs, the best and most effective measure is to get off the road.
When a driver is tired, there are also other actions that can reduce the likelihood of a car accident caused by driver fatigue, including:
- Pull over and take a short nap
- Stop and step out of the vehicle for a break
- Schedule breaks for naps during long road trips
- Drink coffee, an energy drink or another heavily caffeinated beverage
- Install an alertness device that warns of problems
- Avoid medication that can cause drowsiness
The most important step in reducing the chance of fatigued driving is to get enough sleep during normal hours and also drive during the daytime.
Greater awareness of the dangers of fatigued driving is needed as it is clear that fatigued driving is hazardous to all on the roads. If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident involving a fatigued or sleep-deprived car or truck driver, contact a skilled car accident lawyer. A knowledgeable attorney will be able to investigate the cause of the car accident and preserve critical evidence for your personal injury claim.