Driving During the Holidays

Driver Fatigue is always at or near the top of the list of holiday road hazards for a reason – and yet, we don’t give it nearly the respect or attention that drug / alcohol impaired driving receive – even though it is just as dangerous and far more common. Often, when we do think of driver fatigue, we think only of the commercial truck driver and ‘Hours of Service’ regulations which have been the subject of legislation, lobbying and news reports in the past few years. While it is true that fatigue among truck drivers is an issue – it is actually a bigger problem among drivers of passenger cars. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Expert Panel on Driver Fatigue and Sleepiness, Drowsy Driving and Automobile Crashes, identified driver fatigue as a serious problem leading to thousands of automobile crashes each year, “because it impairs performance and can ultimately lead to the inability to resist falling asleep at the wheel. Critical aspects of driving impairment associated with sleepiness are reaction time, vigilance, attention, and information processing”. The same impairments associated with drunk driving. The National Sleep Foundation reports that, according to their 2005, Sleep in America poll, “60% of adult drivers – about 168 million people – say they have driven a vehicle while feeling drowsy in the past year, and more than one-third, (37% or 103 million people), have actually fallen asleep at the wheel! In fact, of those who have nodded off, 13% say they have done so at least once a month.” Keeping these numbers in mind, and as mentioned above – consider a study by researchers in Australia which showed that being awake for 18 hours produced an impairment equal to a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .05 and after being awake for 24 hours, impairment was the equivalent of .10; .08 is considered legally drunk.

Based upon its own research in 1995, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), estimated, conservatively, that 100,000 reported crashes annually are caused by driver fatigue, resulting in 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries, and $12.5 billion in monetary losses each year, primarily in the form of injuries, time lost from work and lawsuits. NHTSA and other experts agree that these figures are far below the actual number, since there is no regular or consistent practice of attributing crashes to driver fatigue. One of the reasons “drowsy driving” is so dangerous is – there is no breathalyzer for it… There is no test, and no standard to determine if a driver is fatigued. This, in part, leads to a lack of consistent reporting of wrecks and traffic incidents involving drivers who are fatigued or fell asleep at the wheel, which can cause uncertainty or error in assessing fault for a wreck and a lack of enforcement against “drowsy driving”.

And so – How does this effect you? Number One: Don’t drive drowsy. NHTSA’s Expert Panel on Driver Fatigue recommends the following to minimize the risk: (1) planning to get sufficient sleep, (2) not drinking even small amounts of alcohol when sleepy, and (3) limiting driving between midnight and 6 a.m.; (keep in mind also that the 2nd most common time for fatigue-related wrecks is between 2 and 4 p.m.). If you do realize that you are losing attentiveness, according to NHTSA’s panel, the best thing to do to avoid danger once a driver first feels drowsy, is to stop driving. Either let a passenger drive or stop to sleep before continuing your trip. Even a short nap of about 15 to 20 minutes will improve your attentiveness and safety for quite a while. Or, according to NHTSA’s experts, make a brief stop, get out of the car and walk around for five minutes – long enough to get a caffeinated beverage. Consuming caffeine equivalent to two cups of coffee will also improve alertness. But, warn the experts: other methods often used to improve alertness when sleepy, such as opening a window or listening to the radio, have not been shown to be effective. So, don’t rely on a chorus of ‘Free Bird’, with the wind rushing through your hair, to get you safely down the road – Better to get a good night’s sleep and pack some Red Bull.

Even if you are not going “over the river and through the woods” this year – this is Atlanta, highway driving is a daily requirement for most of us and some commutes are absolutely fatigue inducing.  And, because this is Atlanta – whether you are on the highway or not, overflow from a blocked or shut-down interstate will impact the streets in your neighborhood, so highway safety matters to all of us.

If you are victim to an accident, call us for a free legal consultation. Cases that may seem cut and dry, rarely are. Our lawyers can be reached at 404-587-8423.