Drowsy Driving is Just as Dangerous as Drunk Driving – So Why Doesn’t the Law Address it?
Driving under the influence (DUI) is a criminal offence in all parts of the USA and has been since the 1980s. In fact, some states have two laws pertaining to driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (either recreational or prescription).
These laws rule it a misdemeanor to be affected by anything that can impair your ability to drive a vehicle, whether or not you are over the limit of a 0.08 BAC. No one doubts that thousands of lives have been saved since the introduction of these laws, leaving our roads safer for all. Yet there are other ways our ability to drive can be impaired and cause us to be dangerous on the road. In fact, driving while sleep deprived is one of the most prevalent forms of impaired driving.
Just as sleep deprivation affects your performance at work and other areas of your life, it can also impair your driving ability at a level similar to that of being legally drunk. One study compared performance ability of sleep-deprived participants to that of intoxicated participants.
Findings reinforced evidence that fatigue was comparable to a BAC of 0.05%, and response times were up to 50% slower for some tests. Additionally, the study found that accuracy measures were significantly worse in sleep-deprived participants than in those with an ‘equivalent’ level of BAC.
Drowsy Driving Deaths
According to the National Sleep Foundation, approximately 100,000 car crashes each year can be attributed to drowsy driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration believes those 100,000 accidents each year can result in 71,000 people sustaining an auto accident injury and a further 1,500 dying.
The American Automobile Association estimates are even higher. They believe 300,000 accidents each year involve a drowsy driver, and that around 6,400 of those collisions result in one or multiple deaths.
Laws Preventing Drowsy Driving
Even with all of the studies, estimates, and high figures pointing to the gravity of drowsy driving, only two states have laws against the practice.
New Jersey successfully implemented a statute in 2003. The law states that a driver that has been without sleep for 24 hours is considered to be driving recklessly, putting them in the same class as an intoxicated driver.
Ten years later, Arkansas followed suit, classifying “fatigued driving” as an offense that falls under negligent homicide, which is punishable by a class A misdemeanor. This comes into play when the driver involved in a fatal accident has been without sleep for 24 consecutive hours.
Two years after Arkansas’ success, New York attempted for the twelfth time to introduce a bill to categorize the offense of driving while drowsy as a class A misdemeanor, but this attempt also failed. Other states have only done the bare minimum. This includes agreeing to designate various calendar dates as ‘Drowsy Driver Awareness Days’, or installing road signs on roads particularly prone to drowsy driving accidents in the hopes that they will encourage drivers to pull over and rest.
Enforcing Drowsy Driving Laws
The main problem with enforcing legislation against driving while sleep-deprived is the burden of evidence which in most cases falls to police officers. Proving someone has not slept for a sustained period of time can be difficult, if not impossible, in most circumstances.
Awareness and advocacy to reduce the instances of drowsy driving are needed if the laws against it are to be more than symbolic. Ideally, they should have the same effect of reducing accidents and fatalities on our roads that DUI laws have.
Raising the public’s consciousness of the issue may well be the only way to reduce drowsy driving deaths, similarly to the way laws against texting while driving had huge public impact and reduced traffic fatalities by 3%. This happened mostly through simply raising awareness and reducing public acceptance of this behavior when behind the wheel of a car.
This articles had been shared by one of our readers Catherine Metcalf. Sincere thanks for her to the support on these site.