Drowsy driving is often referred to as “the third D” in the top three causes of automobile accidents. Drunk driving and distracted driving can be legally determined by certain clues. A Breathalyzer or sobriety test can alert law enforcement to intoxicated driving, and a badly timed text message or cell phone call can indicate distracted driving. However, drowsy driving leaves more ambiguity with regard to legal proof. As accidents caused by driver fatigue become more common, federal and state governments are examining ways to prevent it, track it, and prosecute for it. Any injury or death in an accident involving a suspected drowsy driver is cause for legal investigation. As a citizen driving on Illinois highways, or as a victim injured in an accident, it is important to know the causes, symptoms, and legal consequences of driving while fatigued.
Fatigue is a factor in up to 1.2 million car accidents annually. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, fatigue is responsible for 4,000 to 7,000 fatalities in the U.S. every year. States across the country are reconsidering the consequences for causing injury or death as a result of drowsy driving. The Chicago Tribune reported that if a driver has gone 24 hours without sleep in Arkansas, he or she may be charged with negligent homicide if involved in a fatal accident. In New Jersey, the same driver may be charged with reckless driving. Illinois is in the process of examining its stance on fatigued driving as well.
Many underlying factors can be categorized as fatigue. Disrupted stages of rapid eye movement (REM) can keep a person from the deeper level of sleep necessary to feel rested. Disorders causing sleep dysfunction are not always diagnosed or treated. Work schedules can interrupt natural circadian rhythms, particularly for second and third shift workers. Chronic sleep problems are common with new parents and college students. Medications may unknowingly react with other drugs or alcohol. Some drugs may cause drowsiness simply by their given nature.
While there are less ways to prove culpability than if driving while intoxicated, there are some definite clues to suggest that fatigue played a role in an accident. Experts and investigators train police officers to follow these clues in the wake of an accident. Lack of skid marks suggest that a driver did not try to avoid a collision, which may indicate that he or she may have been sleeping. If there is only one car involved in an accident, the possibility of a fatigued driving incident increases.
Fatigue affects the ability of the brain to function, as the body lacks much needed rest. The most obvious signs are delayed reaction time and impaired vision. Lights and peripheral objects tend to “play tricks” on fatigued drivers, particularly while driving in the dark. Lack of mental agility impairs reaction time. Difficulty processing and remembering information is another sign.
The frequency of auto accidents in Illinois increases every year. If you have experienced lost wages, medical bills, and a compromised quality of life as the result of a fatigued driver, you have every right to seek compensation. At Malman Law, we understand the strain an accident can place on you and your family. Since 1994, we have worked diligently to bring our clients the financial and emotional relief they deserve. Contact us today for a free consultation.