The National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) states that drowsy driving leads to thousands of automobile crashes each year, as sleepy drivers battle with lowered reaction time, attention, and information processing.
Now, a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that drowsy driving “is a factor each year in as many as 7,500 fatal motor vehicle crashes (approximately 25%) in the United States.” While proving sleepiness behind the wheel remains difficult, victims of drowsy-driving related auto accident injuries may still be eligible to file a personal injury lawsuit in an attempt to recover damages.
Drivers Report Falling Asleep at the Wheel
According to a 2010 report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 41 percent of drivers admit to having fallen asleep or nodded off while driving at some point in their lives. A quarter admitted to being so tired they couldn’t keep their eyes open while driving.
The CDC states, however, that the connection between drowsy driving and fatal crashes has been difficult to pinpoint. They based their conclusions on survey questions from over 92,000 people in ten states and Puerto Rico. Results showed that four percent of respondents had fallen asleep while driving during the previous month, though the actual figures may be much higher, considering many people may not have admitted to doing so.
Other results of the study showed that the prevalence of self-reported drowsy driving was higher among men than women, and higher among adults aged 18 to 24 years than those older than 65 years.
Drowsiness Affects Attention and Decision-Making
Falling asleep at the wheel is the most dangerous outcome of drowsy driving, but as the CDC states, drowsiness itself impairs driving ability even while the driver is still awake, as it affects attention and decision-making skills. They note that sleep-related crashes are disproportionately represented in rear-end crashes, and more likely to happen in the mid-afternoon or evening.
A 2005 poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation reported higher numbers of drowsy drivers. According to their findings, 60 percent of adult drivers had driven a vehicle while feeling drowsy in the past year. More than a third reported actually falling asleep behind the wheel.
Proving Drowsiness a Challenge, but Awareness Increasing
While there are tests for intoxication, there is no test to determine sleepiness, which can make it challenging to prove drowsy driving in court. In addition, according to the National Sleep Foundation, law enforcement officers have little training in identifying drowsiness as a crash factor.
Still, victims have recovered damages in lawsuits dealing with drowsy driving. In April 2014, for example, a West Texas family was awarded $4.6 million in a wrongful death lawsuit linked to driver fatigue. Lorenzo Munoz and Roger Franceware were driving an 18-wheeler when they crashed into a concrete embankment and were killed. Their family claimed they had been driving drowsy because of unreasonable schedules assigned to them by their employers.
Exclusively focused on representing plaintiffs, especially in mass tort litigation, Eric Chaffin prides himself on providing unsurpassed professional legal services in pursuit of the specific goals of his clients and their families. Both his work and his cases have been featured in the national press, including on ABC’s Good Morning America.