blurry-sleepy-road-imageLate last month, WETM-TV reported on a car crash that injured three people in Chemung County (Driver Falls Asleep: 3 Car Crash, 5/24/09). New York State Police said that the driver fell asleep at the wheel.

It’s seems simple, just reading about it: if you are drowsy, pull over and take a nap before you kill someone (or yourself!). Since I routinely handle NY and PA auto accident cases, I thought I would share what I found out about this type of auto accident.

The National Center on Sleep Disorders and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration did a study about drowsy driving and its key issues. They convened an Expert Panel on Driver Fatigue and Sleepiness. I wanted to share some of the study’s findings in a very concise synopsis. You can read the whole Executive Summary of the study here.

Who’s most at risk to fall asleep at the wheel?

  • Someone who missed an entire night of sleep the night before. This can lead to an acute need to sleep.
  • Someone who misses just an hour or two of sleep a night, but on the long term. This can lead to a chronic sleepiness.
  • People who must drive between midnight and 6 a.m. – it’s the body’s natural time to be asleep.
  • Drivers who put in many miles a year, who drive for a number of hours a day and who put off taking breaks.
  • People using sedating medications (this can be prescribed anxiolytic hypnotics, tricyclic antidepressants, and some antihistamines, according to the study).
  • Drivers with untreated or unrecognized sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea or narcolepsy.
  • A driver who’s had a drink. Alcohol can contribute to sleepiness, in addition to detracting from your reaction time and critical thinking.

What does a “sleeping driver” accident look like?

There are a number of factors that commonly turn up in accidents caused by a drowsy driver at the wheel.

  • It’s a serious crash. The driver didn’t even try to react to minimize the crash.
  • A lone car left the road.
  • The driver was alone in the car.
  • The crash happened late at night, early in the morning, or in the middle of the afternoon.

So what do you do to prevent falling asleep at the wheel?

The NHTSA has a these “countermeasures” to suggest to help you keep alert on the road. This is information on preventative techniques – none is an instant cure to end this problem.

Long-term solutions

  • Get enough sleep – and to do this, plan on it. Make sleep a part of your schedule like a meeting or being in the office.
  • Don’t drink even small amounts of alcohol if you’re feeling at all sleepy. Make it a zero-tolerance policy.
  • Try not to drive between midnight and 6 a.m. That’s when most of these accidents occur.

Quick solutions

The only two techniques that the government found to be effective were:

  • A 15- to 20-minute nap.
  • 2 cups of coffee (or caffeine equivalent).

There’s no scientific proof that opening the window or blasting the radio has any invigorating result.

Thanks for reading,
James B. Reed, Esq.
Personal Injury & Malpractice Attorney
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
303 William St., Elmira, NY 14902
Tel. (607) 733-8866 Fax. (607) 732-6062
Toll Free 1-800-943-3529