What If My Car Accident Was Caused by Drowsy Driving?

It can be an uphill battle to prove that your accident was caused by a drowsy driver, but there are some indicators that can help you establish the other driver's liability.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, approximately 72,000 vehicle accidents each year can be attributed to drowsy driving. If you've been involved in one of these accidents, you may be wondering whether you can make a car accident claim against the drowsy driver who caused your crash. This article will walk you through some important issues regarding accidents caused by a drowsy driver.

What is Drowsy Driving?

Drowsy driving or "driving while fatigued" can result when someone gets behind the wheel in a number of circumstances, including when the driver:

  • has gotten an inadequate amount of sleep
  • suffers from a sleep disorder, or
  • is taking medication (prescription or over-the-counter) that causes drowsiness.

While drowsy driving can be tied to a number of causes, drowsiness itself can take different forms, including situations where a driver:

  • actually falls asleep at the wheel
  • does't pay proper attention to the road/other drivers/pedestrians
  • has slower-than-normal reaction time, and
  • makes risky decisions while behind the wheel.

Learn more about common causes of car accidents.

Risk Factors of Drowsy Driving

Drowsy driving is not restricted to any one type of driver or circumstance, but the NHTSA has found certain risk factors that increase the probability of driver fatigue. For instance, (and probably not surprisingly) drowsy driving is more likely when the driver did not get enough sleep, has taken sedating medications, or consumed alcohol. Additionally, the risk of drowsy driving increases between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m., in the mid-afternoon, or after a driver has been on the road for a long period of time without a break.

The NHTSA has further found that males between the ages of 16 and 29, individuals with sleep disorders, and people who work night shifts or irregular hours have the highest risk of drowsy driving.

Characteristics of Drowsy Driving Accidents

Many drowsy driving accidents will involve at least one of the following:

  • a single vehicle leaves the roadway
  • the driver is alone in the vehicle
  • the driver does not swerve or take any evasive action
  • the driver drifted out of his/her lane right before the accident
  • the driver crossed a double yellow line and/or drifted into oncoming traffic before the accident
  • the driver cannot recall what happened immediately before the accident, and
  • the accident occurred during high risk hours -- early morning, mid-afternoon or late at night

Accidents caused by drowsy driving are often more catastrophic than other car accidents, because of the drowsy driver’s slowed reaction time and possible failure to take evasive action.

Warning Signs and Ways to Prevent Drowsy Driving

No one is immune from drowsy driving, so it is important to be able to recognize the warning signs so that you can prevent driving while overly fatigued. Yawning or blinking frequently, missing your exit, drifting out of your lane, hitting the rumble strip alongside the road, or having difficulty remembering the past few miles you have driven are clear signals that you may be experiencing driver fatigue. The best ways to combat these symptoms while you are driving is to pull over to rest, or get someone else to drive.

Before getting in the car, the best thing you can do is make sure you've gotten enough sleep and avoid consuming anything that causes drowsiness.

Making Your Case

Every driver owes a duty of reasonable care to others on the road. Drivers who get behind the wheel when they are drowsy or overly fatigued are almost always said to violate that duty when they end up causing an accident because of their tired condition. (Learn more about negligence and the duty of care in personal injury cases.)

But in order to get compensation for your car accident injuries, vehicle damage, and other losses, you will have to prove that the other driver was at fault. Drowsy driving is almost always negligent driving, but it's one thing to suspect that the other driver was too tired to be behind the wheel. Proving it is the challenge. Check out this checklist of records to gather after a car accident, and learn how to gather evidence to help your car accident claim.

An experienced attorney will obtain the police report generated after your accident, possibly subpoena the driver’s cell phone records and credit card receipts, and elicit key witness testimony to find any indication that the driver was awake too long or exhibited signs of drowsiness/inability to drive safely in the hours and minutes leading up to the accident. Investigators and expert accident reconstructionists might also be helpful in proving driver fatigue. Learn more about how a car accident attorney can get the best result for your case.

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