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Which Is More Dangerous, Drunk Driving or Fatigued Driving?

There is much legal and cultural concern around drunk driving. Across the country, states have harsh DUI laws that are punishable by heavy fines and prison time. In civil law, drunk driving is a strict liability. Fatigued driving is not discussed nearly as often. You may hear warnings against it in a driver’s education course, but beyond that, it remains mostly undiscussed.

Legally, fatigued driving is hard to regulate. There are no definitive tests for how exhausted a driver is. We can easily determine someone’s blood alcohol level (BAC), but we can’t measure how rested someone is. Even if fatigued driving could be regulated, there would likely be a cultural backlash among people concerned about civil liberty. As difficult as it has been to regulate mask wearing during the pandemic, one can assume it would be impossible to demand that everyone have a certain amount of rest before they drive.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has provided statistics on drowsy driving. Consistently, we see at least 91,000 crashes per year attributed to fatigued driving. Among those crashes, there are about 50,000 injuries and 795 deaths. These are the 2017 numbers, which also show us that that 9,949 fatal crashes are due to drunk driving. However, as previously mentioned, it’s easier to determine if a driver was intoxicated than too sleepy. Some experts believe that fatigued driving fatalities are as high as 6,000 per year, which is about 21% of all fatal crashes.

According to these statistics, you are more likely to get into an accident while fatigued, but you are more likely to die in a drunk driving accident.

The Dangers of Fatigued Driving

Webster’s Dictionary defines “fatigue” as “weariness or exhaustion from labor, exertion, or stress.” In modern parlance, we often include a general lack of sleep as a reason for fatigue.

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, people who sleep for less than 8 hours are more likely to get into an accident:

  • People who sleep between 6 and 7 hours are 1.3 times more likely to crash.
  • People who sleep between 5 and 6 hours are 1.9 times more likely to crash.
  • People who sleep between 4 and 5 hours are 4.3 times more likely to crash.
  • People who sleep less than 4 hours are 11.5 times more likely to crash.

Exhaustion can affect your driving in many ways. Some people slow down when they are tired, but some become hyperactive. They find it difficult to focus on one thing. This impact on attention span becomes a problem when driving. People who are not properly rested may get distracted or find it difficult to pay attention to the road.

Your general judgment and decision-making skills are affected by a lack of sleep. Most of us have had at least one experience that ended with us saying, “I’m sorry about that. I was tired and wasn’t thinking clearly.” Sleepy drivers are mentally slowed down. They may miss turns or think they have more clearance than they do. A distorted sense of the spatial relationship between themselves and outside objects can create dangerous situations. Tired drivers may not clearly register conditions around them. Less vigilant, they could find themselves in a wreck, not really knowing how they got there.

Sleeplessness can affect your coordination. This can be especially dangerous when operating your pedals. Your ability to take quick, evasive action could be impaired. When you need to avoid something on the road, the ability to react quickly is crucial.

Of course, exhausted people may start nodding off at the wheel. Those precious seconds of unconsciousness could be the very moments you need to be most alert. Some people have dreamlike experiences right before they fall asleep. These are sometimes referred to as hypnagogic hallucinations. When someone begins falling asleep on the road, it could affect their very perception of reality. Shadows and glares can be mistaken for objects. People can have legitimate psychedelic experiences, seeing things that aren’t there or mistaking ordinary surroundings for a fantasy scape.

Fatigued Driving Compared to Drunk Driving

Studies have compared the skills of drunk and fatigued drivers. When someone has been awake for 12 to 18 hours, their driving behavior is similar to someone with a BAC of 0.05%. At 20 hours, driving skill drops to the level of someone with a 0.08% blood alcohol level, which is the legal standard for drunk driving. If someone dares to stay awake for 24 hours, they could be driving like someone with a 0.1% BAC.

Fatigued Driving and the Trucking Industry

Sleepy driving is a big problem in the trucking industry. Truckers are often paid by the mile, encouraging them to drive as much as they can. If they work for an unscrupulous company, they may be pressured into working more than they should. Their bosses can demand unrealistic delivery times, making long hours necessary to meet deadlines.

This behavior is not only reckless, it is also illegal. There is a federal standard for truckers and trucking companies. It demands that truckers cannot work more than 11 hours after being off for 10 hours. A shift cannot last more than 14 total hours, and truckers cannot work for more than 60 hours in 7 days (or 70 hours in 8 days).

Even with those standards in place, we should be aware of just how much work that is. Most of us do not put in 60-hour weeks. That is a lot of time, and it is time spent in constant control of a big, heavy, dangerous machine.

When You’ve Been Injured by a Fatigued Driver

Again, it is difficult to prove that driver fatigue caused an accident. If you’ve been hurt in a car accident and need to file a personal injury lawsuit, you must rely on your attorney to thoroughly investigate the accident. They may be able to determine the other driver’s alertness.

One way to do this is through records. If the driver was on a long trip, they may have left a trail telling the story of their journey. Receipts and phone records could be collected, showing when they were on the road and when they were awake.

Witness testimony can be helpful, especially if there was an officer present for the accident. While we cannot read someone’s mind or physiology, corroborating testimony many be enough to convince the court that the driver was fatigued.

Tracking a trucker’s actions is easier than tracking other drivers. First off, their trucks should be equipped with a black box which tracks events in the truck. The records on this box may show that the truck was in operation longer than it should have been. Receipt records will be easier to follow, as truckers will be frequently stopping for gas, meals, snacks, etc. They might even write off these expenses to their trucking company, making their journey even easier to track. There should also be a log kept at pickup and drop off points. If delivery times are too close to pick up times, it is safe to assume that the trucker was putting in longer hours than they should.

Ultimately, it is not possible to determine which is “more” dangerous, drunk or fatigued driving. One thing is clear: Both actions are dangerous, and they should be avoided.

If you’ve been injured in a car or truck accident, call us today at (843) 968-0886. You can also reach us online. We have the skill to investigate your case. If your accident was due to a fatigued driver, we may be able to discover that evidence and use it to seek damages in court.