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Catching Zzzzzzs Behind the Wheel, an Overlooked Phenomenon in Maryland

While drunk driving and distracted driving get all the attention, drowsy driving is also becoming a major issue and could even be more dangerous. According to research conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, more than one in five fatal crashes involve driver fatigue. Drivers are educated on the effects of drunk driving and texting while driving, but rarely ever is drowsy driving discussed. One reason for this could be because it is difficult to prove that an accident occurred because the driver fell asleep. There is no blood alcohol to test, no field sobriety tests to conduct, and no phone records to check.

The biggest problem with drowsy driving is that if a driver is tired, they will often power through it, thinking they will be able to stay awake. Driving while fatigued is very dangerous and significantly impacts driving performance. Research shows “on average you have to be out for two to four minutes to realize you were just asleep, whereas it only takes two or three seconds for something catastrophic to happen if you are asleep at the wheel.” The AAA study found that even people who sleep six to seven hours a night are twice as likely to be involved in a crash compared to those who sleep eight or more hours. The real danger zone is when a driver gets less than five hours of sleep. Officials at the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine note that driving performance begins to decline beyond 16 hours awake. “When you get to 20 hours without sleep, you are performing as would somebody with a blood-alcohol limit [of 0.08 percent, the legal limit for driving under the influence in Maryland].”

The age group most at risk for drowsy driving is those between 16-30 years old. Teenagers are often sleep deprived because they are forced to balance school work, extracurricular activities, and part-time jobs. Some research shows that half of all drowsy driving-related crashes involve a teenager.

Commercial drivers, such as tractor-trailer drivers, are another at-risk group for fatigued driving due to long hours and very little time to rest. Sleep deprivation is a leading cause of truck accidents, and sometimes, it is not only the fault of the driver but also the truck company for forcing their drivers to work long hours without any break.

Some states have passed fatigued-driving laws and some car manufacturers (BMW and Mercedes Benz) have started including technology in vehicles that detects a drowsy driver and tells them to stop and take a break. “[Drowsy driving] is an issue that deserves the same level of attention…as alcohol, speeding and seat-belt use,” says Brian Tefft of the AAA Foundation.

For more information on drowsy driving, visit www.drowsydriving.org for more information.

If you or someone you love has been injured in an accident caused by the negligence of another driver, including truck drivers who have fallen asleep behind the wheel, please call us today at (855) 954-4141 to set up an appointment at one of our office locations located throughout Maryland for a free case evaluation or visit us online.