Articles Posted in Driver Fatigue

Driving drunk is dangerous, and our state legislators have rightly enacted stringent laws to punish those who engage in such reckless behavior. What is less scrutinized is drowsy driving. And yet, as a recent study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety points out, driving while tired is no different from getting behind the wheel after several drinks. In fact, you may be surprised to learn how even just an hour less of sleep in a night can affect your driving ability. sleepy driver

It’s an issue that warrants closer attention because while you will rarely hear people publicly brag about how wasted they were when they drove home, people actually pride themselves on being able to function on less sleep. Of course, some people don’t have much of a choice. Many folks are working two or more jobs, have new babies at home, or have other reasons why they aren’t getting the full recommended sleep time. But they – and others – need to be aware of how that affects them when they are operating heavy machinery, such as a car.

The problem is believed to be widespread. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports approximately 35 percent of people get fewer than seven hours of sleep a night, and about 12 percent say they sleep five hours or less. Seven is considered the threshold for what a healthy adult needs. Furthermore, AAA reports one in five fatal crashes involves a sleep-deprived driver. This latest study analyzed information from the National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey to ascertain how much one’s driving ability decreases based on varying amounts of sleep.

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Just as federal transportation officials had launched an investigation into a single-vehicle crash of a 15-passenger vehicle that killed 8 and injured 10 in Florida, another accident involving this same type of vehicle – this time in Georgia – resulted in three deaths and nine injuries. Three of those injured were listed in critical condition.
The Florida crash happened on a rural highway shortly after midnight as a group of 18 church-goers were on their way home from a religious revival. Among the 10 injured was a 4-year-old child, who was not harnessed in a proper child safety seat.

In the Georgia case, which occurred about 65 miles northeast of Atlanta, the crash occurred around 7 a.m. when the driver of a van carrying band members from several heavy metal bands fell asleep at the wheel, careened off the road and struck a tree.
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The mangled mess of metal hauled away from the highway near Belmont late last month was a visible reminder of what can happen when drivers fail to get enough sleep. drivingatnight.jpg

Authorities say the 19-year-old driver, with four passengers in his vehicle, fell asleep while driving home from an early morning Black Friday shopping trip. He was killed and his four passengers each hospitalized after he ran off the road and struck a gas station sign. He was traveling 50 miles-per-hour and there was no indication that he had attempted to brake. The vehicle was totaled.

A new study suggests that more Charlotte car accident injuries and deaths are caused by driver fatigue than we perhaps ever realized.
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A young female pickup truck driver slammed into a power line pole on a North Carolina highway recently, causing major power outages in the Burgaw area. shattered.jpg

Our North Carolina accident attorneys understand the motorist had fallen asleep at the wheel.

In another recent case out of Marion County, a woman died earlier this month in a wreck after her husband reportedly fell asleep while driving. Investigators say it was shortly after 5 a.m. when the two left their home. He was driving on the 501 bypass, ran off the road and then over-corrected, causing the vehicle to flip. The wife was ejected from the vehicle and pronounced dead at the hospital. Her husband, meanwhile, did not suffer any serious injuries.

Tragedies like this are absolutely avoidable, but they happen all too frequently.

A recent poll of 150,000 drivers aged 18 and older revealed that more than 4 percent of motorists admitted to falling asleep while driving at some point in the last month. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 fatal crashes are caused by fatigued drivers every single year. The AAA Foundation for Safety, however, found that one-fifth of all drivers reported falling asleep at the wheel in at least one instance over the past year.

These figures tend to be conservative, though, because it’s not as easy to scientifically gauge a level of fatigue the same way we would the amount of alcohol or drugs in a person’s system.

It’s worth noting however that driving while you are tired is just as dangerous as driving drunk. After 18 hours of being awake, your impairment level is similar to someone who has a blood alcohol content of 0.05 percent, according to the Centers for Disease control. After a full 24 hours without sleep, your impairment level is the same as someone who has a blood alcohol level of 0.10 percent – well above the 0.08 percent maximum.

If you add alcohol or prescription medications to that, the risks are even higher.

This is a major problem. Obviously, those with sleep disorders tend to be more at risk, as are commercial truck drivers, whose occupation requires them to spend extended hours on straight highways with erratic sleep schedules.

But as these local cases show, it can truly happen to anyone. What’s especially troubling is that many fatigued drivers may actually be so tired that they don’t even realize their level of impairment. The National Sleep Foundation reports that while denial of fatigue is problematic, motorists may not even be aware of shorter lapses in sleep (called microsleeps) that happen while driving.

The NSF recommends taking the following warning signs seriously:

  • Having trouble keeping your eyes open;
  • Daydreaming or memory lapses;
  • Missing your exit;
  • Hitting a rumble strip;
  • Drifting out of your lane;
  • Trouble remembering the last several miles you drove;
  • Blinking or yawning frequently.

If you start to experience any combination of these, pull over immediately. You could be saving a life.
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Recently-widowed, a Charlotte woman broke her silence to speak about the role of drowsy driving in North Carolina truck accidents.

Investigators said her 38-year-old husband was struck and killed on Interstate 85 by a 69-year-old trucker who fell asleep. Our North Carolina truck accident attorneys were saddened to see the pictures of the horrific wreck, which left the roadway littered with a mess of mangled metal, tires and shattered glass.

The crash happened last July, and her husband was one of three people who lost their lives that day, around 11 a.m. near mile marker 25 in Anderson, South Carolina.

Drowsy driving is more common than you may think, with drivers under the age of 25 accounting for more than 50 percent of all “fall-asleep” car accidents in North Carolina, according to Clinical Compass. Drivers with the most fall-asleep accidents were 20-years-olds. Still, this is a problem plaguing drivers of all ages.
These accidents take the lives of more than 1,500 people and injure another 71,000 each year nationwide. According to a recent study conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, about one in every six fatal car accidents involves a drowsy driver. Although more than 95 percent of drivers say that this driving behavior is completely unacceptable, more than a third of drivers surveyed admitted to doing it at least once in the last month.

Our Charlotte car accident lawyers invite you to join Drowsy Driving Prevention Week. This campaign organized by the National Sleep Foundation aims to raise awareness among drivers about this dangerous driving habit, and takes place Nov. 6 -12. The National Sleep Foundation says most drivers underestimate the dangers that come with a sleepy driver.

“People know that they shouldn’t text or drink when they drive, and that’s great,” said David Cloud, CEO of the foundation. “However, many don’t realize that driving while drowsy is also very dangerous.”

According to the more recent poll from the National Sleep Foundation, drivers 16 to 45-years-old admitted to driving while drowsy at least once or twice a week. Cloud says that he acknowledges that people are sleeping less, and in this economy they’re working more. Still, it’s important to stay in tune with your body when you’re behind the wheel of a motor vehicle not only to ensure your own safety, but the safety of others on our roadways.

Driving while drowsy can:

-Slow your reaction time.

-Impair your ability to see.

-Cause lapses in judgment.

-Can hinder your ability to process information.

Recent studies have revealed that a person who has been awake for 20 hours has the same reaction abilities as a person who is legally drunk. When drivers are sleepy at the wheel, it’s extremely possible for them to go into 3- or 4-second bouts of micro-sleep, meaning they are in the car still traveling probably at a high rate of speed, completely unconscious.

Symptoms that indicate you’re experiencing drowsiness behind the wheel:

-You have heavy eyelids or you’re blinking frequently.

-You’re having numerous daydreams.

-You’re having difficulty keeping your head up.

-Your vehicle is drifting in and out of lanes.

-You are unable to clearly remember the last couple of miles you’ve driven.

-You keep yawning.

-You start to feel irritable, restless or aggressive.

If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important for you to pull over in a safe place and take a break. If you’re traveling with another licensed driver, switch spots and let him or her drive. There is nothing more dangerous that trying to power through your sleepiness. Drowsy Driving Prevention Week organizers are hopeful the campaign can help get drivers to recognize the dangers and appropriate prevention measures.
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Memorial Day weekend is right around the corner so it is a good time for North Carolina car accident attorneys to remind motorists to buckle up and be safe on roadways during the holiday weekend. Holiday weekends often encompass summer barbeques or gatherings which lead to heightened traffic and a high risk of car accidents in Gastonia, Winston-Salem or Greensboro.

The National Safety Council recently released their estimates for traffic crashes during this Memorial Day weekend which begins Friday, May 27th at 6:00 p.m. and continues through to Monday, May 30th at 11:59 p.m. The organization estimates over 400 fatalities and another 39,400 injuries will occur nationwide during the upcoming holiday weekend. The NSC encourages the use of safety belts this holiday weekend as they estimate over 100 lives could be saved nationwide if all drivers and passengers were to wear their seat belts.

In 2009, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration using the Fatality Analysis Reporting System reported 13 fatal crashes in North Carolina on Memorial Day. South Carolina reported 6 fatal crashes. The two states combined for 51 fatalities on Memorial Day alone in 2009 with 28 reported deaths in North Carolina and 23 reported deaths in South Carolina.

The NSC recommends the following tips to ensure safety this Memorial Day holiday weekend:
-Driving under the influence impairs your ability to drive and react so arrange for a designated driver if you plan to drink at a weekend gathering.

-Drive defensively while expecting the unexpected. Exercise extra caution if severe weather is a threat.

-Put your cell phone down while you are behind the wheel.

-Motorists who feel tired should pull of the road to rest or remain at home or at the party rather than driving drowsy.

-Don’t put your car in drive until everyone in the vehicle is buckled in safely. All children should be placed in age-appropriate safety seats to ensure a reduced chance of serious injury in a motor vehicle crash.

-In order to reduce the frustration of driving in high volume traffic, plan to leave early and allow plenty of time for delays. Allowing ample travel time reduces the urge to speed in order to get to your destination on time.

Motorists should be mindful that law enforcement officials will be implementing the zero-tolerance of safety belt laws nationwide from May 23 to June 5, 2011 in recognition of the “Click it or Ticket” campaign.
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According to newspaper reports, three residents of Dillon, South Carolina, all members of one family, were killed in a North Carolina car crash in Nash County on Saturday. Three of the victims were apparently not wearing seat belts when the driver drove off the road on I-95 and slammed into a tree. According to witnesses, the car was driving at over 80 miles per hour, and the driver did not attempt to break. One report cited a North Carolina Highway Patrol Sergeant stating that the driver might have fallen asleep.

An NHTSA expert panel on driver fatigue and automobile crashes determined that typical crashes that involved driver drowsiness occurred on high-speed roads, most likely during late night or in the middle of the afternoon. In such accidents, the driver was often alone, and did not attempt corrective measures to avoid the crash.

The expert panel also noted that motorists were more likely to get into such accidents during long drives during which they did not take enough breaks. The use of some medications, including some antihistamines in response to allergies, was also found to contribute to driver drowsiness.

All of this is particularly relevant on long weekends like the Memorial Day one, during which people tend to travel and enjoy outdoor activities. Outdoor activities might aggravate people’s allergies, making it more likely that they will take antihistamines. Having fun outdoors also tends to make us tired. Finally, long weekends often also mean long drives. The cumulative effect of all those facts is an increased danger of crashes caused by driver fatigue–crashes that can lead to serious injury or death.

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