We Hold Fatigued Drivers Accountable for the Injuries They Cause
Each year, about 50,000 people are injured and more than 700 die in Missouri car crashes. Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of car accidents in Missouri. In fact, in the United States, distracted driving accounts for nearly half a million car accidents each year, more than the population of St. Louis itself. Distracted driving doesn’t always stem from texting, talking on the phone, or taking your hands or eyes off the wheel. Distractions can occur when a driver loses focus and their mind wanders from the task of driving. This can also be called “inattentiveness” and can have multiple causes.
Often drivers lose focus because they are overly tired and fatigued. Drivers on the road for long hours may get momentarily distracted due to fatigue and may not be able to react in time to an unexpected road hazard. Drivers returning from the night shift at work may even find themselves falling asleep at the wheel on a long stretch of highway.
Motor vehicle accidents caused by driver fatigue, including drowsy driving and falling asleep while driving, are preventable, yet they cost almost 800 lives each year. Reports indicate that drowsy driving causes over 72,000 crashes in the United States annually, more than half of which result in injuries. If you suffered injuries in a car accident attributable to driver fatigue, we may be able to help. Drowsy driving often causes night accidents and truck accidents, and you may be able to seek substantial compensation. Call our experienced St. Louis personal injury and auto accident attorneys at The Cagle Law Firm today at (314) 391-5220 or contact us online.
Defining Driver Fatigue
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), defines driver fatigue as an impaired state due to physical and/or mental exertion often caused by the following:
- Extended work hours
- Strenuous work activities
- Lack of sleep
- Late non-work activities
- Night driving
- Sleep disorders
- Extended road trips
- A combination of multiple factors
Driver fatigue isn’t always physical. Mental fatigue can reduce your ability to focus on the road as well. Drivers who wouldn’t drive while “physically” tired may not consider their mental fatigue. Driving home immediately after an emotional event, such as a birth, wedding, or funeral, can result in a mental fog as drivers calm down after an emotional high or low. Most drivers are likely guilty of driving while physically or mentally fatigued without understanding how dangerous it really is. Further, driver fatigue also includes fatigue that sets in while you’re actively driving. Uninterrupted focus on the road during a long trip can cause your eyes to lock and become weary.
The Science of Drowsy Driving
Think about last night. Do you remember the moment you fell asleep? You put your book down and closed your eyes, but did you fall asleep at 10:01 or 10:17? The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that no one knows the exact moment when they fall asleep. Your body naturally enters its sleep state when it receives certain signals, such as darkness, or triggers from your internal clock, called your circadian rhythm. Frighteningly, one in 25 of all drivers reported falling asleep at the wheel while driving in the past 30 days! This can be more dangerous than drunk driving.
Your body needs to sleep, which helps you restore energy and process the previous day’s events. It’s a non-optional physical necessity controlled by your circadian rhythm. As such, your body is actively trying to get you needed sleep during dips in your rhythm, which commonly occur between midnight and 6 a.m. and in the late afternoon. This is when most fatigue-related accidents occur. Fatigue is your body’s way of telling you it’s time to rest and that it’s preparing you for sleep. It’s possible to be physically tired after a long day of work or an exerting hike, but this isn’t the same as drowsiness and mental fatigue from rhythmic dips. Fatigue itself can result in inattentiveness and delayed reaction times similar to those caused by alcohol. Drowsiness impacts your ability to brake, steer, pay attention, and make snap decisions on the road because your brain is transitioning from conscious to unconscious thought. It only takes a millisecond delay in your reaction time to cause a potentially fatal accident, and a single microsleep can have devastating results.
Common Accidents Caused by Driver Fatigue
No single type of accident is officially attributable to driver fatigue in St. Louis, but the following types of accidents may indicate a driver was fatigued or fell asleep at the wheel:
- Overcompensation accidents: One of the most dangerous accidents caused by driver fatigue is overcompensation after drifting. Drowsy drivers may begin to drift from their lanes only to be jolted awake by a horn or rumble strip. This often causes an overreaction whereby the driver quickly forces the wheel in the other direction. This can cause large vehicles to overturn while smaller vehicles may unexpectedly careen into the opposite lane of traffic. This gives other drivers no time to slow down and reduce the speed of impact and can send fatigued drivers into a home, tree, or traffic barrier.
- Rear-end accidents: Any type of distracted driving can result in a rear-end collision. Delays in the mental reaction time of fatigued drivers often prevent them from breaking or changing lanes before hitting the vehicle in front of them. Sometimes, drowsy drivers don’t even recognize the vehicle in front of them has stopped.
- T-bone/red light accidents: The longer you drive while tired, the less likely your brain will process the meaning of certain sounds and signals, such as a red light. Drowsy drivers may see a red light or stop sign, but they are so fatigued their brain can’t process its meaning. Further, drivers who take the same route each day can be so unfocused due to fatigue they drive right through known lights. T-bone accidents can be deadly to the driver with the right of way, as they often result in direct, high speed, side impacts to the driver or passenger-side doors.
- Off-road accidents: Unfortunately, motor vehicle occupants aren’t the only victims of driver fatigue. There are multiple cases of Missouri drivers who fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into houses or drove onto sidewalks. This can result in serious personal injuries and fatalities to pedestrians and homeowners. Many fatigued drivers are injured when they crash into off-road barriers or trees after falling asleep and letting the vehicle drive off the road. Truck drivers traversing rural areas are subject to a high rate of off-road accidents.
If you or a loved one suffered injuries in a car or truck accident, you may be a victim of a drowsy driver in Missouri. Car accidents that people can’t otherwise explain and many nighttime truck accidents may happen because of driver fatigue.
Commercial Motor Vehicle Accidents and Truck Driver Fatigue
Driver fatigue is one of the leading causes of large truck and bus accidents in St. Louis and across the United States. Long hours of driving combined with difficult vehicles and lack of sleep add to the overall dangers of commercial driving in America. These factors are in addition to the sometimes unhealthy lifestyle of truck drivers, who frequently resign to eating fast food or diner food on the road. Obesity often causes sleep apnea and other sleep disorders, which can lead to fatigue in any driver.
The above statement is not to suggest that all commercial drivers have unhealthy lifestyles. Some commercial drivers are very organized and plan soundly so that they eat healthy, exercise and schedule proper sleep. Unfortunately, transportation companies who employ these drivers do not always set reasonable expectations on drivers. Some transportation companies set unreasonable timelines for drop off and pick up so that drivers feel constantly pushed and are not able to sleep the appropriate amount of time or properly schedule restroom breaks. We have seen too many logs and talked to too many truck drivers to know that this does occur more than it should.
The FMCSA instituted certain hours of service regulations for commercial motor vehicle drivers to prevent fatigue. These include:
- Requiring 10 consecutive off-duty hours
- Limiting driving to 11 hours thereafter
- Requiring 8 hours of sleep for sleeper berth drivers
- Limiting the amount of hours truck drivers can work in a week
- Requiring periodic “rest breaks” during road trips
- Forcing truck drivers to maintain a logbook of hours to ensure compliance with these regulations
Missouri personal injury and truck accident attorneys will always check a truck driver’s logbook after a serious motor vehicle accident. Discrepancies in the book may be evidence of systematic driver fatigue or fatigue at the time of the car accident. While drivers have to be held accountable, ultimately the transportation carrier is the group that has to be held responsible to institute and enforce safety measures.
Recognizing Drowsy Driving in St. Louis
One of the most effective ways of preventing fatigued driving is by learning the risk factors and warning signs associated with falling asleep at the wheel. Risk factors include:
- Having a new baby in the home
- Suffering from sleep apnea
- Driving at night
- Certain medications
- Working long shifts
- Driving for extended periods of time
Pull over and ask for help or pull over and rest, if you have one of the above risk factors and begin to experience the following signs of uncontrollable driver fatigue in Missouri:
- Rapid blinking
- Missing a turn or exit
- Drifting from your lane
- Difficulty remembering how far you’ve driven or where you are
- Hitting a rumble strip
There is no excuse for continuing to drive while fatigued. It is key to recognize when you are fatigued and take steps to be safe. While many fatigued driving accidents happen in rural Missouri and rural Illinois, public service officials, police officers, your insurance company, roadside service providers, and ride summoning applications are all available to help prevent fatigued driving. Police officers may stay with you until a ride comes and many insurance companies have a vested interest in preventing fatigued driving. They may offer roadside assistance and towing to prevent an accident and their own potential liability at no cost to you. Have a plan in place for preventing fatigued driving that’s unique to your circumstances.
Tips for Preventing Fatigued Driving
The NHTSA recommends you avoid drowsy driving and associated crashes as follows:
- Ensure teen drivers are getting adequate sleep. They need more than the average adult and are less experienced drivers.
- Do not drink any alcohol before driving, even within legal limits. It causes fatigue in many drivers.
- Check your prescriptions and daily medications to ensure they do not cause fatigue.
- Get seven to eight hours of sleep per night.
- Avoid driving during peak circadian rhythm hours. If you must drive during those times, plan ahead so that you will be rested.
These are long-term solutions for drivers often suffering from fatigue. Short-term solutions for late night driving include drinking a cup or two of coffee and taking a twenty-minute nap before driving. It’s not recommended you use caffeine if you’re seriously sleep deprived. A combination of caffeine and sleep deprivation can cause “microsleeps” resulting in a brief loss of consciousness for 5 seconds at a time. It’s easy to cause a crash during this period or if you overcompensate after waking up. However, adding coffee or a caffeinated super drink often gives drivers a false sense of alertness. While it may give you temporary alertness, the crash into a deeper fatigue usually follows. Thus, you must plan ahead.
Recovering Compensation After a Distracted Driving Accident
The CDC estimates that 800 motor vehicle deaths happen due to fatigued driving each year, but statisticians claim this number can be as high as 6,000. A car crash naturally jolts fatigued drivers out of a drowsy state, so it can be hard to prove an accident happened due to fatigue. Proving that a Missouri driver was fatigued can be important in personal injury litigation because it shows that the driver was negligent.
However, the driving error is the focus of the case. Thus, if someone failed to yield and caused a T-bone crash, our attorneys are not so concerned proving the driver was fatigued. Rather, we prove the driver failed to yield to right of way and violated the rules of the road, which is negligent driving. Experienced personal injury attorneys often turn to science and evidence to show that a negligent, drowsy driver caused your accident. This includes:
- Physical evidence or lack thereof
- Gathering a defendant’s employment file to check for long shift work or night work, which is one of the leading causes of driver fatigue.
- Requesting the defendant’s medical records to check for prescription medications that commonly cause fatigue or conditions, such as allergies, requiring over-the-counter medications causing drowsiness.
- Questioning the defendant as to his or her normal sleep patterns.
- Reviewing the logbook for commercial motor vehicle drivers to ensure compliance with mandatory breaks.
- Questioning witnesses as to the defendant’s activities immediately prior to the accident.
- Hiring expert witnesses to study the vehicles and accident patterns for signs of sleeping or fatigue at the wheel or other distracted driving.
In accordance with Missouri law, every person operating a motor vehicle must do so with the utmost care and in a “prudent manner” to avoid endangering the property or life of another. Proving negligence, therefore, may entitle you to financial compensation for your injuries. This can include payments for medical bills, lost wages, lost career potential, and pain and suffering.
Contact an Experienced Missouri Personal Injury and Car Accident Attorney Today
Personal injuries and wrongful deaths due to driver fatigue are preventable, but when they do occur you have a right to compensation. The top-rated St. Louis personal injury attorneys at The Cagle Law Firm know the dangers associated with driver fatigue. Whether you were involved in a Missouri truck accident, car crash, or injured as a pedestrian, we may be able to help you obtain the compensation that you will need. To schedule your free, risk-free personal injury consultation with one of our experienced car crash attorneys, call us today at (314) 391-5220 or contact us online.
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