Car accidents caused by sleep deprivation are more common than many people realize. For many of us, a few yawns or a feeling of drowsiness may seem like a minor problem, but tiredness on the road is a huge issue. According to a growing body of research, sleepy driving is tantamount to driving recklessly or inebriated. Quite simply, sleepy motorists are compromised drivers, and they injure and kill others on the road every year.
Dallas Horton & Associates have has been working to help plaintiffs involved in fatigue-related traffic crashes in Nevada and Las Vegas. If you find yourself in a collision, contact Dallas Horton & Associates for a consultation.
What Are the Chances of an Accident While Sleep-Deprived?
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) finds that roughly 83,000 collisions annually between 2005 and 2009 were fatigue-related. In 2014 alone, the same source reports that 846 traffic fatalities across the nation were linked to sleepy drivers. More than 7,000 individuals have been killed in car accidents due to sleep deprivation over the past 10 years.
According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), drivers who get only four to five hours’ sleep per day quadruple their risk of a collision compared with motorists who get at least seven hours of sleep. AAA research also indicates about one in five fatal crashes involves a fatigued driver.
Understanding Fatigued Driving
To understand how fatigued driving is a risk, it’s important to understand why sleep is so important. The body needs two types of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep. During the night, the body cycles through both types of sleep, with about three to five cycles per night. However, we only dream during REM sleep.
To get sleep, your body follows what is known as the circadian rhythm, a 24-hour pattern that affects every part of your body. Your internal body clock follows this pattern and determines when you are sleepy or alert.
If something disrupts your internal body clock or circadian rhythm, you may not sleep enough, or might not sleep at the right times. Interrupted sleep, poor-quality sleep — where you do not fall asleep deeply enough or the cycle of REM and non-REM sleep is interrupted — and other factors mean you wake up tired.
When this happens, your reaction times will slow and you will have problems with concentration, response times and emotions. You may lose your temper more often and may even be prone to nodding off during the day.
Obviously, these symptoms are very dangerous for drivers. If you have poor focus and response times, you may not notice traffic signs or dangers in time, or may not be able to respond to them in time if you do. If you are easily upset, you may be more prone to road rage or aggressive driving.
If you experience poor or inadequate sleep over a long period, the risks may be even greater. You may be at a higher risk of hypertension, heart disease and other life-threatening conditions. Long-term sleep loss can also affect your cognitive ability, which can make you less effective at many tasks, including driving.
One of the biggest dangers of fatigued driving is falling asleep at the wheel. You don’t even have to fall fully asleep while driving to be a hazard. When you experience significant sleep deprivation, your body and brain may compensate with “micro-sleeps,” or short bursts of rest, lasting a few seconds each. If you’ve ever caught yourself nodding off and then snapping awake, you’ve experienced a micro-sleep. When you’re driving, however, just a second of inattention can be enough to cause a collision.
In fact, according to the AAA, getting four to five hours of sleep a night can mean a crash risk similar to drunk driving. Fatigued drivers who get five to six hours of sleep are still twice as likely to be in a crash when compared to their better-rested counterparts.
The Legal Consequences
Nevada does not have specific drowsy driving laws, meaning drivers cannot be charged with fatigued driving, even if they cause an accident. However, a driver who falls asleep at the wheel, or who is so tired they cause an accident, can be held responsible under distracted driving laws. In Nevada, drivers can be charged with careless driving and other offenses if they are driving fatigued and cause an accident. They can also be charged with manslaughter if they are fatigued, and this is determined to constitute negligence leading to a fatality.
Nevada works on a demerit points system, and reckless driving means eight demerit points. Drivers who are in a car accident causing an injury and who caused the accident due to careless driving, including fatigued driving, can also face revoked or suspended licenses.
A driver can be charged with a misdemeanor if they are found guilty of reckless driving in Nevada. This can mean fines of $250 to $1,000 and up to six months in jail for a first offense. For someone with a previous conviction, fines of $1,000 to $1,500 and up to six months in jail are possible. A driver with multiple reckless driving offenses may face $1,500 to $2,000 in fines and up to six months in jail.
In July 2016, Reno passed a new law against careless driving. This new law allows police to ticket drivers under code sections 6.06.720 and 6.06.725 for reckless or careless driving. This means fatigued motorists who are weaving or driving dangerously can be ticketed.
While many car accidents are due to sleep deprivation, proving your crash was caused by a fatigued driver can be a challenge. With inebriated driving, there is a blood alcohol test which can determine whether a driver was over the legal limit. With distracted driving, it may be possible to get cell phone records to determine whether a driver was texting or talking at the time of a crash. There are no medical tests police can administer for fatigue, however, and it can be difficult to determine whether someone was sleepy enough to be compromised before a crash.
In these cases, it is important to speak to an attorney who can work with investigators and other professionals. An attorney can work to hold dangerous drivers accountable and can negotiate or fight for the fairest compensation for you so you can pay medical bills and the other costs you may face after your traffic crash. An attorney can also work to prove fatigued driving was a factor in the collision, which could impact your case.
How to Prevent Drowsy Driving Collisions
While you cannot control what other motorists do, there are several ways you can reduce your risk of a fatigue-related collision:
- Check your physical ability to drive before you drive anywhere. Preventing drowsy driving starts with you. Unfortunately, many people dismiss fatigue as a “minor” problem, and there isn’t social pressure to avoid drowsy driving the way there is social pressure to avoid drunk driving. If you’re yawning, feel sleepy or don’t feel fully alert, take a taxi or an alternative form of transportation. Even ask a passenger to drive, if that’s an option. Don’t just drink some coffee, turn up the music and keep your windows open. These actions will not prevent you from falling asleep or being unfocused if you are really tired.
- Take alternative forms of transport home if you work shifts, especially the night shift. According to a 2016 study published by the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, 38 percent of drivers heading home from the night shift were in near-crashes. Researchers concluded that late-shift and night-shift workers needed to use extra caution and even to find other ways home because of their increased risk of collisions when compared with non-shift workers. Night-shift workers are at risk of being involved in a crash because of circadian disruption and less sleep.
- Never drink and drive. Alcohol can make the effects of drowsiness more pronounced. Together, alcohol and fatigue can spell disaster, even if you stay under the legal blood alcohol limit.
- Always check your medications. Some over-the-counter and prescription medication can make you feel drowsy. Never drive when taking these medications.
- Stay alert for the signs of fatigue. If you are yawning, notice your eyelids drooping, don’t remember the last few seconds or feel as though you really need to sleep, you shouldn’t be driving. Any significant tiredness may be enough to make you a dangerous driver.
- Get medical attention for sleep disorders. Insomnia, restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, narcolepsy and other conditions increase your risk of car accidents. The problem is that, in many cases, you may not notice they affect your sleep until you are feeling truly unwell. If you are waking up from a full night of sleep feeling less than rested, you may want to visit a specialist to determine if you have a sleeping disorder. Getting a proper diagnosis and treatment can help.
- Sleep at least six hours a night. People who sleep less than that amount have an increased risk of fatigue-related crashes.
- Break up longer drives. Even with good sleep, you can become fatigued on a long drive. Schedule breaks or share driving responsibilities.
- Be careful on long stretches of highway. These can make even alert drivers feel a little drowsy, and for someone who is already feeling sleepy, the monotonous nature of the drive can cause them to drift off. Warm Nevada weather can make the problem even worse, as heat can make you feel more groggy.
- Pursue good-quality sleep. Even if you get a full night of sleep, you may not wake up rested if your sleep quality is poor. For best results, sleep in a quiet, cool room with no ambient light. Make sure your sleep area is relaxing and comfortable. Consider using an eye mask and ear plugs to reduce noise and light, and keep work out of your sleep area. Strive to make your bedroom as restful as possible. Avoid exercise, sugar, caffeine and heavy meals before bed, as these can affect your sleep.
What to Do If You Were Injured by a Drowsy Driver
The repercussions of falling asleep at the wheel can be significant, but in many cases motorists who have behaved recklessly work to evade the consequences by denying wrongdoing. Since fatigued driving can be hard to prove, it’s important to take steps to protect your interests if you have been in a car crash.
If you have been in a car collision and suspect fatigued driving is at fault, do not permit anyone to move the cars at the scene unless it is necessary for safety reasons. Contact the police to report the accident. Determining where the cars came to rest can help investigators determine if the driver was going off the road or swerving into the next lane.
It is also important to take lots of photos at the scene of the crash and to get the contact information of any witnesses. Witnesses may have seen a driver weaving or even drifting off, and this can help you establish the chain of events. Even photos of skid marks on the road or the final resting position of the cars can help accident reconstruction experts determine what caused the accident. Take as many photos as you can, and try to secure as much data as possible.
Contact an attorney as soon as possible if you have been injured in a car crash that may have been caused by a fatigued driver. An attorney can work with investigators and get copies of medical records to determine what caused your crash and how seriously you were injured. While you are not legally required to work with an attorney, doing so can help you build a stronger case. In addition, an attorney can handle all the legal details for you, so you don’t have to spend weeks compiling information or dealing with forms. Since a lawyer also understands the insurance laws and court system, he or she is poised to help you understand the process.
If you can been in a car accident in Las Vegas or anywhere in Nevada, and think fatigue or negligence may have played a role, contact Dallas Horton & Associates for a consultation. Dallas Horton & Associates aggressively fights for the results you deserve, and we know where and how to look for the evidence needed to support your claim.
Best of all, members of our law firm fight as aggressively for you as we would for someone in our family. We understand this is a stressful time, and we do all we can after your crash to offer you the legal support and professionalism you deserve. With more than 70 years of combined experience, and more than 7,000 cases successfully resolved, we have the experience to take on a variety of cases. Our staff is also bilingual, so if you need services in Spanish, we are happy to speak your language. Before you make any decisions or sign any paperwork after your crash, contact Dallas Horton & Associates for a consultation to get legal help.