Driver fatigue is a widespread problem that causes many accidents, often leading to severe injuries and extensive property damage. The potential dangers of fatigued or drowsy driving mean you should avoid driving when not fully awake or aware.
Technological developments help combat driver fatigue, but drowsy driving is still common. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported that one in 25 drivers have admitted to falling asleep behind the wheel. The same report found that even more drove while sleep-deprived.
Here you’ll learn more about driver fatigue, the many associated risks, and some steps to take after an accident involving fatigued driving from our car accident lawyers.
What Is Driver Fatigue?
Driver fatigue is physical or psychological exhaustion while driving, often due to sleep deprivation. Drivers who experience this fatigue tend to feel the need to sleep while driving, potentially drifting off behind the wheel and causing an accident.
Fatigued driving is serious and puts motorists and others at risk. Drivers should never operate a vehicle in this state.
The Causes of Driver Fatigue
There are multiple potential causes of driver fatigue, including:
- Sleep deprivation. This is among the most common causes of driver fatigue. Adults require around seven to nine hours of sleep every night to function properly throughout the day, but many drivers don’t get enough sleep.
- Sleep disorders such as sleep apnea. Another cause of driver fatigue is a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea. People with sleep apnea cannot breathe at certain points while sleeping. These temporary breaks in breathing could occur dozens of times while the person sleeps, preventing the person from getting deep, restful sleep.
- Working or driving late at night. The body tends to want to rest during the late night hours as part of the natural circadian rhythm. However, many people may drive or work during these hours, causing drowsiness when they get behind the wheel.
- Impaired driving. Alcohol and drugs, including certain medications, can impair drivers and lead to fatigued driving. This effect can worsen when drivers are already fatigued without substances.
- Poor nutrition or health. People often suffer from fatigue when malnourished or in generally poor health.
- Pre-driving exertion. People may become fatigued after strenuous physical exercise, leading to fatigued driving.
- Frequent travel. If a person travels frequently, this activity could cause fatigue. Travelers often endure degrees of stress and dehydration when traveling, whether on the road or in the air. Changing time zones and settings can also affect a person’s body and sleep regulation.
- Daylight savings time. When people set their clocks forward or backward an hour, this shift can disrupt people’s circadian rhythms.
How Driver Fatigue Affects Motorists
Driver fatigue impacts driving much like alcohol. One study confirmed this, finding that after around 18 hours without sleep, the body experiences the same effects as it does with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.05 percent. Approximately two hours later, subjects exhibited effects resembling those seen with a BAC of 0.08 percent, the national legal limit for drivers.
Specifically, fatigued driving leads to:
- Reduced reaction time
- Impaired decision-making and judgment
- Impaired mobility, causing drivers to lose control of the steering wheel
- Distraction and inattention
- Microsleeping involving periods of unconsciousness lasting four to five seconds while driving. This time asleep is enough for a serious accident to happen.
- General inability to focus
Warning Signs of Driver Fatigue
People exhibit signs of driver fatigue before and while driving. If you notice any of these signs, you should avoid driving until you’re awake enough to drive.
Some of the main signs of driver fatigue include:
- Inability to keep your eyes focused
- A heavy feeling in the head
- Struggling to keep your eyes open
- Excessive blinking or yawning
- Difficulty maintaining speed
- Memory problems
Circumstances Leading to Fatigued Driving Accidents
When fatigued driving accidents occur, they often share similar circumstances that are unique to these accidents.
Some of the specific situations leading to fatigued driving accidents include:
- The driver fails to take evasive action, such as swerving
- Drivers are alone in the vehicle at the time of the accident
- The accident takes place during late-night, early-morning, or mid-afternoon hours
- The driver drifts over their lane before colliding with another vehicle or object
- The driver is unable to remember the events that took place immediately before the accident
- The driver drifted into oncoming traffic
You may notice these behaviors before an accident takes place, in which case you should take steps to avoid drivers exhibiting these actions.
The Risks of Drowsy & Fatigued Driving
Driver fatigue has many risks. Statistics show how dangerous fatigued driving is, with the National Sleep Foundation estimating that around 6,400 people die yearly in drowsy driving accidents.
Fatigued driving contributes to tens of thousands of non-fatal accidents annually that cause serious injuries and damage. The accident victims may suffer from debilitating injuries that require long recovery periods or cause permanent damage. Injuries could also include physical and mental disabilities that alter a person’s life.
The risks are even greater when truck drivers drive while drowsy or fatigued. Semi-trucks and other trucks are much larger and heavier than other vehicles. If truckers get into an accident, they have the potential to cause severe injuries and damage to other vehicles. Despite this, many truck drivers drive while tired.
Avoid driving whenever you feel drowsy due to the high risks of fatigued driving.
What Happens if a Fatigued Driver Causes an Accident and Injuries?
If an accident with a fatigued driver injures you and causes other damages, you may be able to recover compensation through an accident claim or lawsuit. You may also be able to file a wrongful death suit for the loss of a loved one resulting from such an accident.
In some cases, drivers may be criminally liable and face charges. However, accident victims are likely to obtain compensation from liable drivers even if they aren’t criminally responsible. You may attempt to recover compensation through a civil lawsuit or insurance claim.
To prove that a fatigued driver caused an accident and subsequent damages, you must collect enough evidence that proves a few key items:
- That an individual or entity owed you a duty of care, which for drivers is a duty to practice safe driving and be mindful of other motorists and pedestrians;
- That this person or entity breached that duty of care through negligence in the form of fatigued driving; and
- That this breach of duty led to various quantifiable damages by causing a fatigued driving accident
In most fatigued driving accident cases, the fatigued driver and their insurance company are liable for damages resulting from an accident the driver caused. This liability means the negligent party must compensate for the victim’s injuries and other damages.
In addition to drivers, other parties may be liable in fatigued driving accident cases.
These potential parties include:
- Employers of commercial drivers for failing to require drivers to take breaks as needed and enforcing rules about hours of service (HOS)
- Restaurants or bars that serve alcohol to customers who are visibly intoxicated
- Drug manufacturers or medical providers who don’t warn drivers about side effects resulting from over-the-counter or prescription medications
Compensation in Fatigued Driving Accident Cases
Following an accident involving a fatigued driver, victims may recover different types of compensation for the damages they sustain. These include economic and non-economic damages resulting from injuries and losses.
Some examples of economic damages include:
- Medical bills, including expenses for immediate treatment and long-term care
- Lost income resulting from the inability to work either temporarily or permanently
- Lost earning capacity
- Property damage, including damage to vehicles
- Physical therapy and rehabilitation costs
Victims may also recover non-economic damages, such as:
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
- Loss of consortium (relationship)
The damages will vary from case to case, meaning the compensation amount will also vary. It’s often difficult to calculate all the damages resulting from a fatigued driving accident, especially non-economic damages that aren’t as tangible or easily quantified. In these cases, an attorney might assist you.
How a Car Accident Attorney Can Help You
After a fatigued driving accident, you may want to file a claim with the fatigued driver’s insurance company. In cases involving low costs and minor or no injuries, you might settle with insurers on your own. However, fatigued driving accidents often involve severe injuries and costly damages, and insurers want to avoid paying large sums of money to victims.
When negotiating with insurance adjusters, it may seem like the adjuster is on your side. Despite appearances, adjusters work in favor of insurers first. They’ll seek the lowest settlement amount possible. If you’re not familiar with the claims process, you may not know the full amount that you’re able to recover. Adjusters often make an initial offer that seems appealing, but your case is probably worth much more.
If you want to build a strong case that proves liability, you must collect sufficient evidence, which you may struggle to obtain or organize. Evidence may include medical bills and records, proof of lost income, witness statements, and more.
If your case involves extensive damages and steep costs, consult with an accident attorney. An experienced accident lawyer can review your case details in a free case evaluation and determine what options are available to you. If the attorney decides to take on your case, they may then begin to gather evidence and build a case to support your claim. Attorneys can also negotiate with insurers and determine what your case is truly worth.
If your case goes to trial, an attorney can also provide representation in court.
Steps to Take After a Fatigued Driving Accident
Immediately after a fatigued driving accident, to keep everyone safe and maximize your chances of succeeding with a claim:
- Pull the vehicle to the side of the road if possible and ensure everyone in the vehicle is safe from harm.
- Call emergency services if anyone is injured or if damages are extensive. Wait for an ambulance to arrive along with the police. If you don’t require immediate care, speak with police officers and file a report. Be honest and include as many details as possible about the accident, including behaviors you observed from the other driver that may indicate fatigued driving.
- Collect as much evidence at the scene as possible, including photos or video footage of the scene, property damage, and injuries, along with witness statements. If you cannot collect evidence immediately after the accident, return when possible.
- Seek treatment right away. Even if your injuries seem minor or you don’t experience any symptoms, you may have underlying injuries that could become severe. Seeking treatment sooner will help you recover and begin developing medical records that could support your case.
- Consult an attorney. A knowledgeable accident attorney can discuss your case with you in a case evaluation and may provide representation. Even if the attorney declines to represent you, they will offer some advice on how to proceed.
Contact a Reputable Accident Attorney
If a fatigued driving accident injures you or a loved one, you may be able to recover the damages resulting from the accident. To learn more about your options, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer today.