Driving takes a considerable amount of focus, attention, and concentration. Navigating traffic, avoiding obstacles, and monitoring for emergencies are all a part of the task of driving. Yet, many drivers routinely get behind the wheel of a car without the ability to do these tasks.
Many drivers would not dream of driving after drinking alcohol or taking drugs. Yet, driver fatigue is similar to driving under the influence of alcohol. In fact, driving after going more than 20 hours without sleep is the equivalent of driving legally intoxicated. As such, fatigued driving is impaired driving and half of all drivers in the United States consistently get behind the wheel of a car while feeling drowsy. Unlike drunk driving, however, it is not illegal to drive fatigued and it is difficult to monitor.
But how dangerous is driver fatigue?
Driver Fatigue: Just the Facts
Driver fatigue can affect and impact everyone. Understanding the facts about driver fatigue is one step towards preventing deadly accidents from occurring. Did you know….
- 83.6 million people drive sleep-deprived every day.
- Drivers under the age of 25 cause more than 50 percent of all drowsy driving crashes
- Men are more likely to drive fatigued than women (56 percent vs 45 percent)
- Losing two hours of sleep a night is equivalent to driving after drinking three beers
- Fatigue-related crashes result in $109 billion in economic costs to society
- People who snore are more likely to fall asleep while driving
- Drivers in the southeastern region of the U.S. are more likely to get less than 7 hours of sleep a night
- Shift workers and commercial drivers are more likely to drive drowsy
- 36 percent of all shift workers drive fatigued several times a month
- Drowsy driving causes at least 7 percent of all trucking accidents
- 25 percent of all truck drivers said they fell asleep while driving in the last month alone
- Truck drivers average less than 5 hours of sleep a night
Causes of Driver Fatigue
There are many different causes of driver fatigue, including drinking alcohol, taking certain medications, shift work, and illness. However, the most common cause of driver fatigue is simply not getting the recommended hours of sleep. Not sleeping enough can occur because of staying up too late, working long hours, raising a family, or dealing with an underlying sleep disorder.
Not Getting Enough Sleep
Driver fatigue is common in the United States. That is because we are one of the most sleep-deprived nations. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than a third of all American adults routinely get less than the recommended hours of sleep.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine, as well as the Sleep Research Society both recommend that adults sleep at least 7 hours every night. This is the minimum amount of sleep required to promote optimal health. Sleeping less than the recommended amount can increase the risk of suffering from serious medical conditions, such as heart disease and high blood pressure. It can also increase your risk of getting into serious and deadly car accidents.
When these fatigued drivers hit the open road, they can react slowly in emergencies, fail to recognize motorcyclists, pedestrians, or children on the road, or they may fall asleep behind the wheel. An estimated 1 in 25 drivers have fallen asleep while driving in the last 30 days alone.
The body has a natural sleep mechanism to help ensure that we get enough sleep. As sleep debt builds up and increases, it can become increasingly difficult to stay awake while doing boring tasks, such as driving. Your body’s own natural circadian rhythms also work to make us feel sleepy in the dark early hours of the day. As such, many deadly sleep-related car accidents occur in the early morning hours.
Sleep Disorders and Driver Fatigue
Sleep disorders can also contribute to drowsy driving. An estimated 70 million Americans suffer from a sleep disorder. Fatigued drivers cause one out of every six fatal car accidents in the United States and many of these drivers have a diagnosed or undiagnosed sleep disorder. Studies have shown that sleep disorders contribute to up to 20 percent of all car accidents.
Some of the most common sleep disorders include:
- Sleep apnea
- Sleep paralysis
- Restless legs syndrome
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Jet lag
- Seasonal affective disorder
In particular, researchers linked sleep apnea to higher incidences of car accidents. An estimated 25 million adults in the U.S. suffer from sleep apnea. Symptoms of sleep apnea include snoring, gasping, or silent breathing pauses while sleeping. Sleep apnea prevents the body from getting adequate sleep even when individuals think they sleep. As such, you can “sleep” for 8 hours a night but only register 4 hours of actual good and restorative REM sleep.
According to the Mayo Clinic, individuals suffering from sleep apnea may not even realize they have this sleep disorder. When individuals suffer from sleep apnea, they can experience excessive daytime sleepiness, as well as difficulty concentrating during the day. They may also suffer from morning headaches and high blood pressure.
One study highlighted by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that drivers with obstructive sleep apnea were nearly 2.5 times more likely to get into a serious motor vehicle accident when compared with other drivers. Further analysis uncovered that individuals who sought CPAP therapy to treat their sleep apnea could lower their risk by 60 percent.
One out of three commercial truck drivers in the United States suffers from mild to severe sleep apnea. To help prevent deadly trucking accidents, truck drivers may only receive a DOT medical certification for one year instead of two. A medical examiner will decide if your sleep apnea interferes with your ability to safely operate a large commercial vehicle. If the examiner determines that your sleep apnea makes you a danger on the road, you must seek treatment for your sleep disorder before getting back on the road. If you do not seek treatment, you may lose your commercial driver’s license.
Prevalence of Driver Fatigue
Did you know that you are three times more likely to suffer serious injury in a car accident when you drive fatigued? According to a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, drowsy driving causes nearly 323,000 crashes a year. These crashes result in more than 109,000 injuries and nearly 6,400 deaths.
Yet, these numbers represent just a fraction of the number of accidents caused by fatigued driving. That is because fatigued driving is often underreported after an accident. Many drivers do not tell police officers in reports that they drove while sleepy or that they nodded off in traffic.
In addition, many drivers do not even recognize driver fatigue, or they believe only drivers who fall asleep are fatigued. Yet this is far from true.
Have you ever caught yourself falling asleep for a few seconds while driving? You then pop back awake just in time to realize you drifted slightly out of your lane. Sound familiar? That is a microsleep. Microsleeps can occur while driving and they are deadly. These short and involuntary periods of inattention can last just five seconds, but they can cause serious and fatal accidents.
Consider this: Texting and driving is dangerous and illegal in many states across the country. That is because it takes an average of five seconds to send or read a text message. When driving 55 mph on a freeway or highway, taking your eyes off of the road for five seconds is dangerous. In just five seconds, your car travels the length of a football field without your eyes on the road. Microsleep is similar. For five seconds you do not have your eyes or mind on the task of driving. The results are deadly.
Because of underreporting and microsleeps, safety experts and researchers believe that the prevalence of drowsy driving is more than 350 percent higher than reported.
Impact of Fatigue on Driving
The National Safety Council estimates that 43 percent of Americans are too tired to safely function at work. Of those, 31 percent commute to and from work an average of 30 minutes or longer every day. As you can imagine, these fatigued drivers increase the risk of everyone suffering serious injuries in accidents.
Unfortunately, fatigued driving is hard to detect and monitor. It is difficult for police officers to know who is driving fatigued and who is not. Yet, like other dangerous driving behaviors, such as drinking alcohol, fatigue has a significant impact on driving.
How does fatigue impact driving? Feeling sleepy impairs your driving because it affects your ability to drive safely. Even if you never fall asleep behind the wheel, drowsy driving can cause you to:
- Pay less attention to the road
- Become more easily distracted
- Fail to react appropriately in an emergency
- Make poor decisions while driving
Driver fatigue slows reaction times significantly, similar to alcohol. When a driver’s reaction time slows, they may not brake fast enough or steer out of harm’s way quickly. The results are often tragic and sometimes fatal.
One study found that fatigued drivers experienced a higher incidence of eye closures while driving. This resulted in a higher rate of rear-end collisions because drivers failed to brake in time. Other studies have linked sleepiness and driver fatigue to decreases in reaction time, memory, psychomotor coordination, and decision making.
Preventing Driver Fatigue
You can help prevent driver fatigue and reduce your chances of getting into a car accident by taking the following steps:
- Aim to get at least seven hours of sleep every night. 8 hours is even better.
- Do not travel for more than eight to 10 hours a day while on a road trip
- Take regular stopping breaks every two hours
- Make sure to stay hydrated
- Share driving with another person
- Never drink alcohol or take medications that make you drowsy
- Pull over and rest if you feel yourself getting sleepy
- Talk to your doctor to rule out underlying medical conditions, especially if you snore
Driver Fatigue: Getting Into an Accident
Unfortunately, even when you drive safely and carefully, another driver on the road may not. After all, with so many fatigued drivers on the road, you have an increased chance of getting into a car accident with one. When a sleepy driver causes your accident, you have a right to seek compensation for your injuries, property damage, and pain and suffering.
Unfortunately, injured accident survivors often find it time-consuming and complex to negotiate a fair settlement with insurance companies. That is why so many injured accident survivors turn to personal injury lawyers to help them obtain the money they need after a crash.
Your car accident attorney will need to examine your accident closely to determine who is to blame for the accident. Your attorney will then work with medical experts, forensic specialists, and accident recreation teams to build the best case for you.
Your car accident lawyer will then negotiate with insurers to obtain compensation for:
- Medical expenses
- Rehabilitation costs
- Long-term care
- Lost wages
- Loss of future earnings and benefits
- Property damage
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
It is best not to attempt to negotiate a settlement on your own. Injured accident victims typically recover significantly more compensation with the help of a lawyer. Your lawyer can guide and support you through the legal process and help answer all of your questions. If necessary, your attorney can even take your case to trial to ensure that you recover the money you need to get your life back on track.
Driver fatigue is avoidable. When another driver chooses to drive while fatigued, they can cause horrific accidents. These drivers can – and should – accept responsibility for their negligence and pay for all damages. Unfortunately, their insurance companies may not agree and can fight aggressively to reduce their liabilities and settlements. Injured car accident victims need a to contact a personal injury attorney who can level the playing field with insurers and fight to get them the money they need.