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Drowsy Driving: Is It as Dangerous as Drunk Driving?

Drowsy driving causes thousands of auto accidents each year both in Washington and across the country.

As a nation, America is chronically sleep-deprived. We are tuned in, turned on, connected and wired 24/7. Our smart phones, televisions, computers, tablets, e-readers, net books, and other gadgets may help us be more productive during the day, but they are also keeping our bodies and brains from getting a restful night's sleep. Though this sleep deprivation is good for Washington's own Starbucks Coffee Company (and other similar businesses that sell billions of cups of caffeinated beverages each year), it can wreak havoc with our bodies and our lives.

For example, thousands of drivers hit the road each day without getting adequate rest beforehand. Though it is true that caffeine can offer some alertness, there is simply no substitute for plain-old sleep. Operating something as simple as a toaster or microwave can be tricky for someone who hasn't gotten enough sleep; the level of hazard is obviously much greater when something as large and powerful as a car is involved.

The simple truth is that when we drive while fatigued-so-called "drowsy driving"-we put our fellow motorists and ourselves at risk.

Startling Impact

According to statistics provided by the American Automobile Association (AAA)'s Traffic Research Foundation, a whopping one-third of drivers admit that they have fallen asleep at the wheel at some point. In addition, the National Sleep Foundation reports that 37 percent of drivers have nodded off while driving in the past year alone. Many people might think that this is no big deal, and that if they didn't have an accident, they consider it a "no harm, no foul" situation.

Unfortunately, just because you have successfully driven while fatigued in the past, it doesn't mean that will always be the case. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that drowsy drivers cause, conservatively, around 100,000 accidents a year. That represents about 1,500 deaths, 71,000 injuries and a whopping $12.5 billion in monetary losses (resulting from medical bills, property repair, increased insurance costs, lost wages, lost work productivity and other expenses related to a serious car accident) annually.

The number of car and truck accidents caused by drowsy driving could actually be much higher, since other issues like speeding or reckless driving that might accompany drowsy driving might be blamed instead.

Comparable to Drunk Driving?

Some may think it a ridiculous proposition that driving while fatigued is as dangerous as drunk driving, but the comparison is actually a valid one. The two dangerous road behaviors share many similarities, including:

  • Slowed reaction times
  • Poor decision-making skills
  • Lane drifting
  • Inability to focus on surroundings (making other cars, pedestrians, bicyclists or stationary objects vulnerable)
  • Impaired judgment
  • Aggressive driving
  • Inability to process and adjust for signs, stoplights, lane markers, changes in traffic patterns or changes in weather conditions

In fact, one of the few things that drowsy driving doesn't have in common with drunk driving is that it is not yet illegal to drive while fatigued. Just because legislatures haven't acted on the issue certainly doesn't meant that drowsy driving is safe, though. Simply put, it is dangerous to climb behind the wheel without having gotten sufficient rest beforehand. If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident caused by a drowsy, distracted, inattentive, aggressive or drunk driver, you do have legal rights. To learn more about protecting and exercising those rights, contact a personal injury attorney in your area.