Many Floridians are tired, overworked or even exhausted. Behind the wheel, this can be deadly. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports nearly 700 people are killed annually in drowsy driving accidents. The true number is probably much higher. Unfortunately, driver fatigue isn’t as easy to ascertain as conditions like alcohol impairment, even though the effects are similar. An earlier analysis indicated nearly 40,000 accident-related injuries in the U.S. annually are caused by sleepy drivers.
In Florida recently, three people – including two sisters – were tragically killed in an overnight highway crash while returning from vacation. Authorities speculated drowsy driving was the cause.
“We believe this driver may have been just tired,” an FHP official told the local news station. “Just drowsy. He did not state that, but that’s indicative of this type of crash that we see especially in the overnight hours.”
How Does Sleep Affect One’s Driving Abilities?
As noted by the Sleep Foundation, drowsiness can have a significant impact on a driver’s judgment, coordination, attention, vigilance, decision-making skills, and reaction time.
It’s not uncommon for fatigued motorists to:
- Weave back and forth between lanes.
- Have difficulty maintaining the right speed.
- Struggle to maintain a safe distance from other vehicles.
- Be unable to react fast enough to avoid obstacles.
- Drive off the road.
In fact, drowsy driving is often compared to drunk driving because the effects are so similar. In controlled studies, researchers found that when it came to tasks critical to driving, sleep deprivation was just as risky as alcohol impairment. A person who has been awake for 20 hours straight is as equally impaired as someone with a 0.08 blood-alcohol concentration. One study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that getting between 6-7 hours of sleep a night (as opposed to 8) doubled the chances of being in a wreck. Getting less than 5 hours of shut-eye doubled it again.
Who’s Responsible for Drowsy Driver Crashes?
As West Palm Beach car accident attorneys, we are familiar with drowsy driving cases involving both passenger and commercial vehicles. No one is immune from fatigue while driving, but truck drivers may be especially at risk due to their long hauls and tight deadlines. They are required by federal law to cap their hours of service at various intervals. Still, it’s possible for drivers to become fatigued even while following the rules. Plus the reality is, enforcement in some companies may be rather lax.
It may not be necessary to prove the driver was drowsy to establish negligence and win your Florida car accident case. For example, a driver who violates traffic laws by failing to maintain their lane or keeping an assured clear distance can be found liable for injuries caused in the resulting crash, regardless of whether we prove they were drowsy. Still, evidence that a driver broke the law or was testing their body’s biological need for rest can be used to prove their failure to use the reasonable care required of all drivers.
Employers of negligent drivers can be found vicariously liable (meaning we don’t need to prove the employer did anything wrong so long as the employee was negligent while acting in the course and scope of employment). Still, evidence that an employer flouted federal hours of service laws or pushed their employees beyond the limits of what was safe could face additional penalties.
If you are injured in a crash with a drowsy driver in West Palm Beach, our dedicated car accident lawyers will carefully analyze the facts of your case and help you decide your next best step.
Contact the South Florida personal injury attorneys at Halberg & Fogg PLLC by calling toll-free at 1-877-425-2374. Serving West Palm Beach, Miami, Tampa, Orlando and Fort Myers/ Naples. There is no fee unless you win.
Drowsy Driving vs. Drunk Driving: How Similar Are They? Jan. 25, 2021, The Sleep Foundation