Many of us have gotten behind the wheel of a car when we were probably too tired to do so. It often happens because someone picks up an extra shift at work, stays up late studying for a test or working on a project, or when an emergency arises.
If you’ve ever driven while tired, you might have initially felt a sense of adrenaline when you first got behind the wheel. You may have assumed that you could keep up the momentum.
Not seeing any other cars on a poorly lit stretch of a 2-lane highway or sparsely trafficked interstate may quickly zap any remaining energy out of you, making it nearly impossible to hold even one eye open.
Sleepy, tired, fatigued, or drowsy driving (however you want to refer to it) is dangerous. It not only puts you at risk for serious injuries or losing your life but increases the chance of you causing a crash that may seriously maim or kill someone else.
A discussion of how drowsiness affects a motorist’s vehicle operation and how often drowsy driving is responsible for crashes follows.
How Common Is Drowsy Driving?
Data published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 2017 showed that 91,000 accidents were caused by drowsy driving. At least 800 fatalities resulted from these crashes. Another 50,000 individuals were injured in these fatigue-involved incidents.
Two other studies, published in 2013 and 2014 in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), involved the collection of self-reported data among adults 18 and over. At least one driver respondent per 25 questioned admitted to falling asleep while operating their vehicle during the previous month.
What Impact Does Fatigue Have On Your Driving?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) previously prepared a list of how fatigue affects a motorist’s driving behaviors. They noted that drowsiness has the following impact:
- It increases the potential for a driver to fall completely asleep at the wheel.
- It limits driver decision-making capabilities.
- It decreases driver reaction times.
CDC researchers determined that the longer a motorist goes without sleep, the more challenging they find it to perform the above-referenced tasks necessary to safely navigate Chicago roads.
How Do the Effects of Drowsy and Drunk Driving Compare?
The CDC contends that the waning of motor skills and cognitive declines that tired motorists experience is not all that different from how a driver intoxicated from alcohol or drugs would be affected.
CDC researchers argue that the diminished skills that a legally intoxicated individual and someone who has gone 18-24 hours without sleep experience would likely be on par with each other.
This insight sheds light on why we should all be just as vigilant about ensuring that drowsy motorists don’t take to the streets just as much as we’re careful not to let someone drunk do the same.
Laws That Prevent Drowsy Driving
Every state in this country has some type of drunk or drugged driving laws. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, only two states, Arkansas and New Jersey, penalize motorists for fatigued driving. It should be noted that these two states only appear to penalize individuals for driving while fatigued if their actions result in someone else suffering injuries or dying, though.
Motorists who drink and drive can generally be charged with a crime for merely operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol content (BAC) over the legal limit. They don’t have to hurt or kill someone to face penalties for their actions, as in the two states mentioned above.
Now, it should be stated that while a state like here in Illinois doesn’t explicitly have its own statute dedicated to drowsy driving as Arkansas and New Jersey do, motorists can face criminal charges for engaging in this activity.
A motorist who operates a vehicle while drowsy may face reckless driving charges, a misdemeanor offense here in Illinois. Those criminal charges could be upgraded to reckless homicide charges if a motorist’s drowsy driving resulted in someone else’s preventable death.
How Federal Hours of Service Rules Regulate Trucker Fatigue
As for federal officials, they have long been regulating driver fatigue, at least as far as truckers are involved.
The United States Department of Transportation (DOT) Hours of Service (HOS) rules:
- Limit how long commercial motor vehicle operators can remain on the road before needing to take a 30-minute non-driving break
- Spell out how many hours a commercial carrier can drive before being required to take a sleeping period
- How long truckers may work in a week before having to take 34 mandatory off-duty hours
HOS requirements vary depending on whether a trucker carries passengers or property. Federal officials first implemented HOS rules in the 1930s. Since then, they’ve been regularly updated to align with changes in labor laws and, in recent years, as regulators have learned more about the impact trucker fatigue has on the safe operation of their trucks.
Truckers who violate HOS rules run the risk of having their commercial driver’s license (CDL) at the very least temporarily suspended in addition to having to pay fees.
Where Does an Attorney Fit In When There is a Drowsy Driving Accident Case?
Above, you read that there are federal regulations in place to ensure truckers receive ample sleep to safely operate their trucks. Many tractor-trailer operators make changes and violate these rules in hopes that regulators won’t find out, especially since they stand to temporarily lose their license and pay a fine if caught.
In terms of passenger car operators, you read that they may face reckless driving or reckless homicide charges if pulled over or they cause someone’s death.
If you’ve been hurt or have suffered the untimely loss of a loved one in a truck crash with a drowsy motorist, you may not think that the above-referenced penalties are enough for a negligent driver to pay.
You can take comfort in knowing that Illinois is an at-fault insurance state. You can recover compensation for your medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering and loss of a normal life and other losses you sustained in a crash.
When you see a tractor-trailer riding down the road, you may assume that its operator is an employee of whatever company is represented on the side of their truck. That’s often not the case, though.
An analysis of the trucking industry conducted by the digital freight brokerage firm Convoy in 2019 revealed that approximately 11% of U.S. truckers are independent contractors (ICs). These self-employed truckers may either lease their trucks or sometimes own and operate their own ones, even under a different carrier’s authority.
The chances of someone driving a delivery truck working as an independent contractor instead of as an actual employee of the delivery or fleet company is low. Employers tend to like such an arrangement because they won’t have to pay for health insurance, unemployment, and perhaps workers’ compensation for these workers.
If you’re wondering how this figures into a truck accident in which you were struck and injured, this employment arrangement can impact liability for the crash. If an IC were to be deemed at fault for the crash, then you would likely only be able to take legal action against them under certain circumstances. However, there is an exception to this rule.
The law of agency may allow you to hold the company that employs the self-employed truck or delivery driver liable for their independent contractor’s negligent actions that resulted in the crash. Whether that’s an option in your case is contingent on how much control the company employing the IC exerted over them.
As you might imagine, determining this isn’t easy. However, it makes a significant difference in how much damages you can recover in your case if a drowsy driver left you with permanent injuries that are likely to cost a significant amount across your lifetime to treat.
Schedule a consultation with our truck accident attorneys here at Krzak Rundio Gorman, Injury Attorneys so that we can go over how you might prove liability in your case.