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Driving While Drowsy to Blame for Thousands of Car Accidents Every Year

In recent years, many states, including the state of Georgia, have placed an even greater emphasis on the importance of curbing instances of distracted and drunken driving. Millions of dollars have spent on ad campaigns designed to directly target motorists to who text and drive, with one of the most noticeable campaigns being the “It Can Wait” campaign. This and similar campaigns use celebrity endorsements to solicit pledges from drivers to refrain from texting and driving. What the public fails to realize, however, is that another, just as dangerous activity has been contributing to upwards of 17 percent of fatal car crashes per year–yet, for some reason, it doesn’t garner nearly as much attention.

Driving while drowsy is one of the top reasons thousands of Americans are involved in a car crash, with the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) citing it as the cause for upwards of 100,000 accidents annually. In 2010, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety (AAAFTS) reported that two out of every five drivers (approximately 41 percent) reported falling asleep or nodding off while driving and, with episodes of drowsy driving primarily making an appearance after midnight (and, on a slightly smaller basis, during the mid-afternoon), certain groups of motorists, including younger drivers, commercial drivers, shift employees and people with untreated sleep disorders, are more susceptible to the phenomenon.

According to the NHTSA, because of the higher speeds and slower reaction times sleepiness causes, car accidents associated with drowsy driver are more likely to be serious or even fatal than the average car crash, with higher rates of morbidity and mortality. In fact, the behaviors characterizing drowsy-driving are eerily similar to those of inebriated drivers or drivers otherwise distracted. Unlike, drunk driving, however, there exists no instrument by which police officers can measure the degree of someone’s “drowsiness” post-accident. This can interfere greatly with an investigation in the accident’s aftermath and means that deterrence becomes even more important.

The most obvious deterrent is for people to recognize when they are on the verge of drifting off and, in the absence of an opportunity to do so before driving, pulling off of an exit or over to the side of the road and catching a nap before continuing on to their destination.

Unfortunately, however, most people are unable to determine when they are actually falling asleep in the first place. Less than 30 percent of people typically realize that they might have difficulty staying awake before getting in the car while, conversely, more than 70 percent, although fatigued, reported that they felt wake enough to drive.

Accordingly, it becomes increasingly important for motorists to be cognizant of the messages their bodies are sending them, many car accident attorneys say. The National Sleep Foundation lists the following warning signs of drowsy driving:

• Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking, or heavy eyelids • Daydreaming; wandering/disconnected thoughts • Trouble remembering the last few miles driven; missing exits or traffic signs
• Yawning repeatedly or rubbing your eyes • Trouble keeping your head up • Drifting from your lane, tailgating, or hitting a shoulder rumble strip • Feeling restless and irritable
Aside from educating the public about the signs of drowsy-driving, various devices, such as rumble strips, have been purposefully installed on roadways and still more and alternative devices are being contemplated. Rumble strips essentially function as a wake-up call for dozing drivers – but they have their limitations and should not be wholly relied upon.

As the NHTSA states, it really comes down to the driver’s response upon being awakened by the rough grumble and vibration of their tires as they graze over the strips. Most people, for example, lurch their vehicles right back onto the highway, without pause or allowing a more alert driver to take over.

If you’re driving and feel the onset of any of the above symptoms (or find yourself in the company of rumble strips) it may be time to take a break from the road. In Georgia, continuing to operate a car when you are clearly fatigued can lead to a “reckless driving” charge (and officers frequently pull over such drivers based upon their erratic driving patterns. In the event of a death, a citation for a misdemeanor traffic offense quickly escalates to a charge for felony vehicular homicide. Due not only to the possible physical injuries that may result, but also due to the legal implications, it is imperative that drivers avoid driving while fatigued. It only take one two second micro-nap to irrevocably change a life.