September 12, 2016

Posted: September 12, 2016 |

Orange County Car Accident Lawyers Discuss Unique Challenges in Proving a Drowsy Driver Caused a Car

While many people are aware of the epidemic involving drunk and distracted drivers, fewer motorists are aware of a cause of serious auto accidents that poses a comparable danger.  Sleep-deprived motorists cause approximately 100,000 vehicle collisions reported to police annually according to the National Sleep Foundation.  The organization’s website also estimates that these sleep-deprived crashes cause injury to 71,000 people and 1,550 fatalities each year.

Although fatigued and tired drivers present a danger comparable to inattentive and intoxicated motorists, sleep deprivation constitutes a form of negligence that might be more difficult to prove.  When a driver is talking or texting on a mobile phone, cell phone records can be obtained to establish that the motorist was multi-tasking.  If an intoxicated motorist causes a car accident, field sobriety tests and chemical tests of a driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) provides valuable evidence of negligence.  

Proving Drowsy Driving Caused a Serious Motor Vehicle Collision

The process of proving a driver operated a motor vehicle without an adequate amount of sleep is much more complicated.  Police cannot administer a test based on an objective standard to determine a driver is sleep-impaired as with a driver who is intoxicated.  Similarly, documentation usually will not exist to establish that a driver has not had sufficient sleep before operating a motor vehicle.  Most lawsuits arising out of auto accidents caused by sleepy drivers require proof of other unsafe driving practices related to the driver’s exhaustion.  If a driver dozes off behind the wheel, for example, the motorist might fail to brake before rear-ending another vehicle.  Similarly, a driver struggling to stay awake might drift into an adjacent lane and sideswipe another vehicle.  However, evidence in many cases involving a sleepy driver usually is much more ambiguous in terms of liability.

Fatigued Drivers Operating Tractor-Trailers

Collisions involving sleepy drivers also poses a significant danger of causing tractor-trailer accidents.  Any driver who dozes off behind the wheel poses a danger to other drivers, passengers, bicyclists, and pedestrians.  However, commercial drivers must comply with special hours of service (HOS) rules designed to prevent truckers from causing fatigue-related crashes.  HOS rules impose limits on time behind the wheel on a daily and multiple day basis while also imposing mandatory rest periods.

In theory, the task of proving fatigue as a cause of a trucking accident should be easier than in a collision involving the driver of an automobile.  Truck drivers must comply with HOS rules and document their compliance in a driver logbook.  While these requirements should make trucking litigation in drowsy driving cases less difficult, commercial carriers and truck drivers frequently keep a dual set of books or otherwise fabricate information in driver logbooks.  Because commercial drivers can increase their profits by remaining on the road for longer hours, truckers have a strong incentive to fudge their hours of service logs.  Similarly, trucking companies can maximize profits by “looking the other way” because trucks that are parked in the yard do not earn revenue for the company.

Slowing the Sleepy Driver Epidemic Hindered by Public Indifference

The biggest obstacle to bringing the drowsy driving epidemic under control might be rooted in permissive public attitudes toward the practice of operating a motor vehicle when sleepy.  The vast majority of people would probably agree that drunk driving and texting behind the wheel are unacceptably dangerous practices.  However, attitudes toward drowsy driving are much more forgiving.  A poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation revealed that six in ten adult motorists (approximately 168 million drivers) admit driving while drowsy during the last year.  Even more alarming, 37 percent of respondents admitted to falling asleep behind the wheel during the same period.

Despite this relative indifference to the threat posed by sleep-deprived motorists, the impact of lack of sleep is comparable to consuming alcohol before driving.  A study conducted by Australia researchers found that driving after 18 hours without sleep results in impairment comparable to operating a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration between .05 and.10 percent.  Drivers in all fifty states can be convicted of DUI with a BAC of .08 or above.  Although drunk driving might be viewed more negatively, drowsy drivers present a comparable threat to the safety of others on the road.

If you suffer injury caused by a drowsy driver in Southern California, our Orange County car crash injury attorneys provide effective representation of personal injury victims.  Our lawyers at Allen, Flatt, Ballidis & Leslie offer a free consultation, so call us at 888-752-7474 to schedule your free consultation today.