Drowsy Driving: The other negligent ‘D’ that causes Alabama car wrecks

Ignoring the warning signs of drowsy driving contributes to approximately 1,550 traffic fatalities per year.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that one third of all fatal traffic accidents are caused by an intoxicated driver. Advocacy groups have long established the fact that alcohol impairs the ability to drive, putting everyone on the road at risk. The truth is that this isn't the only type of driver impairment.

A lesser-known reality is that drowsy driving is not far behind drunk driving in frequency, causing approximately one sixth of all fatal crashes -- and the impairments are remarkably similar.

Every year, police report an estimated 100,000 auto collisions that are the direct result of driver fatigue. These drowsy driving accidents lead to approximately 71,000 injuries and cause the death of another 1,550 people.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration used the word "conservative" to describe the estimates reported above. The exact numbers could potentially be much higher than that due to several factors.

These factors include inconsistent state reporting practices, the lack of an objective, scientific test for sleepiness and even the fact that some drowsy driving accidents may be attributed to another cause, like drunk driving.

What makes drowsy driving so dangerous?

The National Center on Sleep Disorders Research and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration convened a panel of sleep experts to help define and combat drowsy driving with educational information. These sleep experts noted in their report that drowsy driving:

  • Impairs the ability to drive much like alcohol does. A lack of sleep reduces a driver's reaction time, attention and ability to process and integrate information quickly.
  • Often leads to serious motor vehicle crashes. In studies that excluded alcohol-related crashes, more drowsy driving crashes led to fatal injuries than other non-alcohol related collisions.
  • Significantly enhances the effect of alcohol. Experts presented data that showed that those that consumed only a low dose of alcohol and got eight hours of sleep swerved off the road four times more than those who were sober. Individuals that had only four hours of sleep committed 15 times the amount of off-road deviations.

What makes drowsy driving an exceptionally dangerous behavior is that it is extremely common. A 2005 Sleep in America poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation found that approximately 60 percent of adult drivers admitted to driving drowsy in the 12 months prior to the study. A total of 37 percent admitted that they actually fell asleep.

Behind the wheel, a dangerous lack of sleep is considered negligence

Everyone gets tired. Symptoms of a lack of sleep include heavy eyelids, yawning, daydreaming, forgetfulness, restlessness and the inability to keep your head up. It is our body's way of telling us that we need sleep. A drowsy feeling is considered completely natural, but it is considered negligent when someone chooses to ignore the warning signs and drive anyway.

A drowsy driving accident may not always be easy to pinpoint, but an experienced Huntsville car accident attorney knows just how to spot this type of negligence. More importantly, a personal injury attorney can use this information to help victims obtain the compensation that they deserve.

Keywords: drowsy driving, driver fatigue, car accidents, drunk driving