It's been a long day and you're not as fresh and alert as you were during your morning commute. The effects of that coffee you had on your lunch break have already worn off. Your eyelids feel heavy as you stare at the road in front of you in a daze. Maybe it's those hours of sleep you missed last night. Perhaps you're fatigued from your job. You may still be adjusting to daylight saving time.
Your conscience tells you that you shouldn't continue driving in this state, yet you roll along anyway. Why not? You only have another 15 minutes before arriving home. Then comes a drop of the eyelids and a nod of the head. Then a sudden awakening jolt. After that split-second of dozing off behind the wheel, you're relieved that a serious accident didn't just occur.
If this sounds like you, you're not alone. According to a National Sleep Foundation survey, roughly 50 percent of respondents admitted to driving while drowsy and another 20 percent admitted to falling asleep behind the wheel within the past year.
While some drivers may get away with a quick doze, many others aren't so lucky. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, around 100,000 estimated crashes attributed to drowsy driving are reported by police each year. As a result, an average of 1,550 people lose their lives and 71,000 suffer injuries.
According to 2016 AAA Texas statistics, drowsy driving resulted in 509 serious injury crashes and 164 fatal crashes.
Who is the most at risk?
Any driver can be at risk of falling asleep behind the wheel, but certain groups of people are most at risk, particularly due to occupations, demographics, and medical conditions. These include:
- Drivers ages 16-25: Drivers within this age group are less likely to receive an adequate amount of sleep and more likely to drive late at night.
- Shift workers: People who work overnight shifts, or other varying shifts, have a high likelihood of dozing off behind the wheel. Since the body's natural clock (circadian rhythm) programs us to be awake during the day and sleepy at night, this pattern can be disrupted among shift workers.
- Truck drivers: Those who drive big rigs spend most of their time on the road. Many of them also drive late at night.
- People with sleep disorders: Those who suffer from sleep apnea, narcolepsy, insomnia, or other sleep disorders are at a high risk of falling asleep at the wheel. For some people, a sleep disorder can be so severe that they may be prohibited from driving.
- Business travelers: Those who travel frequently for business, especially across time zones, are susceptible to jet lag. While a person is adjusting to another time zone, he or she is at a heightened risk of being drowsy.
- What are the signs?
Nobody can decide when they're going to fall asleep. Without adequate sleep, staying awake can sometimes be impossible. However, signs of drowsiness will first manifest through:
- Heavy eyelids
- Trouble focusing
- Frequent yawning
- The need to rub eyes
- Daydreaming or feeling dazed
- Irritability and restlessness
- Impaired reaction time
- Poor judgment
- Poor memory of signs or exits
- Trouble staying in lane
- Dangerous driving, such as tailgating
Mitigating the risk
Drivers who start to feel drowsy should immediately get off the road. It's best to find a safe place, pull over, and take a short nap. Consuming caffeine can offer a temporary boost; however, drivers should not expect caffeine to replace sleep.
Attorney Jeff Weinstein has seen the devastation caused by drowsy driving. These catastrophic accidents often happen at full speed and result in devastating injuries. At worst, someone loses their life because of a drowsy driver's irresponsible behavior.
If you or a loved one suffered injury in a crash, contact our Athens, Texas law firm today to discuss your legal options.