What Are the Risks of Fatigued Driving?

November 17, 2016 | Attorney, Matthew Dolman
What Are the Risks of Fatigued Driving?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conservatively estimates that at least 100,000 motor vehicle crashes are the direct result of driver fatigue each year in the US. This results in an estimated 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries, and $12.5 billion in monetary losses [1].

Even more, mind boggling is that according to a National Sleep Foundation poll, 60% of adult drivers (about 168 million people) say they have driven a vehicle while feeling drowsy in the past year. Additionally, more than one-third of Americans (about 103 million people), have actually fallen asleep at the wheel [2].

These alarming statistics have pushed the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to add fatigued-driving to the top of their 2016 Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements. The Most Wanted List represents the NTSB's biggest priorities in regards to issues that need improvement. According to their website, “It is designed to increase awareness of, and support for, the most critical changes needed to reduce transportation accidents and save lives.

Falling asleep behind the wheel is a dangerous form of distracted driving. Anyone who has ever started to doze off while driving probably felt the danger deep in their gut, and for good reason. Because unlike other forms of distracted driving, falling asleep is a lot harder to consciously control.

You can put down your phone, stop eating that cheeseburger or refrain from constantly adjusting the music, but preventing your body from getting some sleep is a lot harder to control. However, you have some options to prevent becoming a statistic.

What contributes to fatigue driving?

While operating a vehicle, the driver needs to be awake and alert in order to safely move through traffic. Operating a vehicle while fatigued, drowsy, or tired leads to the endangerment of not only the driver but also to others who are sharing the road with them

Human fatigue can be both a symptom of poor sleep habits and/or some type of health condition. If someone does not get enough sleep the night before or has been awake for too long, they may experience fatigue while driving. Those with certain health conditions may also have issues staying awake behind the wheel. Conditions like depression, sleep apnea, concussion, obesity, and traumatic brain injury, among many others, may also contribute to a feeling of fatigue.

A lack of regular exercise is a common cause for consistent tiredness as well. Contrary to popular belief, exercising does not make people tired. Instead, it actually has the opposite effect. A study published in the journal, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, found that people who consistently complained of fatigue could increase their level of energy by 20% while decreasing fatigue by as much as 65%, simply by participating in regular, low-intensity exercise [3].

Undiagnosed and untreated medical conditions also contribute to the wider problem, perhaps contributing to the alarming statistics above. At the same time, already diagnosed sleep disorders, which may require medications, may have side effects that also lead to hindrances while driving. Even medications that are not related to sleep disorders—prescribed or over-the-counter—may impair an operator's ability to drive safely. Likewise, certain recreational drugs can contribute to fatigue as well.

Why is fatigued driving a problem?

Driving while fatigued does not only increase the risk of falling asleep and losing control of the vehicle, but also creates other impairments, such as poor judgment and decision-making, slowed reaction times, and loss of situational awareness. Fatigue degrades a person's ability to stay awake, alert, and attentive to the demands of controlling and operating their vehicle safely. To make matters worse, fatigue can actually impair one's ability to judge just how fatigued they really are.

Research has shown that a person who has been awake for 17 hours faces the same risk of a crash as a person who has a BAC reading of 0.05g/100ml. This means that those drivers are twice as likely to have an accident when compared to a person with a zero blood alcohol content and who is not fatigued. To go one step further, drivers who have been awake for 24 hours have a driving performance similar to a person who has a BAC of 0.1 g/100ml (the legal BAC limit is .08). These drivers are seven times more likely to have an accident. These are alarming statistics, considering we have all driven while fatigued at some point or another, even if we would never dream of driving while drunk.

Who is at risk of fatigued driving?

According to the Transportation Accident Commission, “fatigue can impair reaction time and decision making when behind the wheel which increases the risk of being involved in an accident.” Moreover, the types of drivers considered to be most at risk are young drivers, shift workers (including commercial vehicle drivers), and drivers with sleep disorders.

As one might guess, commercial truck drivers are at serious risk of the dangers of fatigued driving. This is because commercial drivers spend much more time driving than the general public. They are also paid by the miles they drive and are therefore tempted to keep moving in order to be able to feed their families. Likewise, transport companies have a vested interest in keeping their drivers moving, since their business is only successful if loads are delivered on time and promptly. This does not mean that all commercial drivers are out roaming the roads with Z's escaping from their gaping mouths. In fact, most drivers understand the risks of driving while drowsy and closely follow the guidelines designed to prevent the issue.

Young drivers also have a tendency to stay up later and push aside sleep more than the rest of society. As they are developing into adults, their bodies tend to have an excess of energy. This is the same reason that two-year-olds can be so hyper and constantly on the go; good thing they can't drive. Since young people stay up late and go with little sleep, their chances of driving fatigued are increased.

Shift workers have a tough job. Anyone who has ever had to work overnight knows just how tough it can be. The body is simply not designed to stay up all night and awake all day. For this reason, shift workers are more at risk of driving fatigued.

Sleep disorders are more common than people might think. If you do not have a sleep disorder, you probably take the ability to fall asleep or stay awake for granted; but not everyone has such an easy time. Insomnia causes those suffering from the disorder to be unable to fall asleep, making them tired on nearly consistent basis. It's easy to see how this could contribute to fatigue driving. On the opposite end of the spectrum, those with hypersomnia (a condition which causes a person to be tired all the time) generally do not feel rested after a nap or long period of sleep. This causes them great fatigue throughout their day, including while driving.

How can I decrease my chances of driving drowsy?

Fatigue is a common issue the faces all types of drivers—not just commercial drivers, young people, or those with sleep disorders. The following are some general tips to help you get a high quality of rest, which will reduce the chances of fatigued driving.

  • Stick to a sleep schedule.

Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends, holidays, and days off. Creating a routine sleep schedule will help your body to learn when to fall asleep and when to wake up, generating a much more restful sleep. It is also helpful to create a bedtime ritual. Do the same things every night before you go to bed, in the same order. This way, your mind is prepared to fall asleep.

  • Pay attention to what you eat and drink.

Do not drink caffeine before bed. Likewise, alcohol can cause issues getting truly restful sleep. Don't go to bed either hungry or stuffed. Going to bed hungry, or too full, can also disrupt falling asleep and the way your body gets rest.

  • Get comfortable.

Create a room that's ideal for sleeping. This often means getting your room dark, quiet, and cool. However, this can vary from person to person. Likewise, ensure that you have a quality pillow and mattress. These are things that you will use every day for the rest of your life, so it makes sense to ensure they are of a high quality.

  • Limit daytime naps.

Long naps in the middle of the day can affect your body's internal clock, conflicting with how quickly you fall asleep and how restful your night will be. If you do nap, limit yourself to about 10 to 30 minutes.

  • Include physical activity in your daily routine.

As mentioned earlier, regular physical activity can improve your energy levels. But it can also promote better sleep too, helping you to fall asleep faster and to enjoy deeper sleep. Keep in mind, though, you wouldn't want to exercise and increase your energy right before bed; that would have the opposite effect.

  • Manage stress.

Stress can be extremely unfavorable to a restful sleep. If you have problems with stress at night, try doing something specific to calm yourself down, like taking a bath or using lavender spray on your pillow. Some people also find it helpful to keep a pad and pen on their bedside table to write down any thought that keeps reoccurring. This way it is “out of their head” so they can quit thinking about it.

If you do find yourself fatigued while driving, do something about it. Don't just try to fight it off; it won't work. It only takes a split-second for a life-altering accident to occur. If you do start to doze off:

  • Pull over and get some rest.
  • Get out of the car and get your blood flowing. Do jumping jacks or something similar.
  • Let someone else drive. You make like to be the driver, but your well-rested passenger will do a better job.
  • Get a cup of coffee and spend a little time out of the car.
  • If you need to, hire a taxi or request a ride from a ridesharing app. Having to come back to get your car in the morning is far less inconveniencing than a spinal injury or dying.

Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA

Nearly three-quarters of adults in America (71%) drive a car to and from work, and as we saw earlier, many of them are drowsy drivers. More than one-fourth of respondents to a Sleep in America poll said they have driven drowsy to or from work at least a few days a month. 12% drove drowsy a few days a week, and 4% said they drive drowsy every day or almost every day. We at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA know the perils of long days at work and busy schedules. Yet, this should not be an excuse to drive dangerously and negligently, as doing so will only lead to pain and inconveniences for everybody.

If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident due to the negligence of another, please don't hesitate to call the experienced personal injury attorneys at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA. Our aggressive staff knows how to handle cases regarding fatigued drivers and the accidents they cause. You can call our office to schedule a free consultation and evaluation of your claim. Our number is (727) 451-6900.

Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765

(727) 451-6900


[1] https://www.nhtsa.gov/Driving-Safety/Drowsy-Driving/did%E2%80%93you%E2%80%93know [2] https://drowsydriving.org/about/facts-and-stats/
[3] https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/exercise-for-energy-workouts-that-work#1 [4] https://www.ntsb.gov/safety/mwl/Pages/mwl1-2016.aspx


Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has successfully fought for more than 11,000 injured clients and acted as lead counsel in more than 1,000 lawsuits. Always on the cutting edge of personal injury law, Matt is actively engaged in complex legal matters, including Suboxone, AFFF, and Ozempic lawsuits.  Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess of $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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