Car And Truck Driver Fatigue Is As Dangerous As Drunk Driving

One April morning, a man was driving his pickup truck in northern Illinois. At about 10 a.m., he fell asleep, his vehicle drifted into oncoming traffic, and he hit a car head-on. The pickup flipped and burst into flames, but the man was able to exit the vehicle safely. The car went into a ditch, and its driver had to be extricated and airlifted to a hospital in Downers Grove. A passenger was also taken to the hospital, according to news reports.

Dozing off behind the wheel, as this driver did, is not that unusual. It may be a factor in more truck and car accidents in Downers Grove and other nearby cities than many people realize. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has called drowsy driving an unrecognized, significant traffic safety problem.

Drowsy Driving Is Dangerous

Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study that found that one in 24 adults had recently fallen asleep while driving. The researchers who completed the study said that the actual number could be higher, because some people may not realize they have fallen asleep.

Even when tired drivers do not fall asleep, fatigue is dangerous. In fact, safety experts say that drowsy driving is as dangerous as drunk driving. Drowsy driving:

  • Slows reaction time
  • Impairs judgment
  • Causes problems with short-term memory and information processing
  • Decreases performance
  • May cause drivers to react more aggressively

AAA estimates that sleepiness is a factor in one in six fatal accidents. In addition, drowsy driving contributes to one out of eight crashes that result in hospitalization.

Truck Drivers Are At Risk

For some drivers, tiredness is a professional problem. Truck drivers - including those who regularly navigate Interstates 88, 55, 294 and 80 in the Chicago metro area - regularly deal with several of the factors that the National Sleep Foundation says place people at risk of drowsy driving. Truck drivers may drive long distances without proper rest periods. They may have to drive at times when people would normally be asleep or tired, such as at night or in midafternoon. They may be trucking cargo alone on long, boring routes.

With all these risk factors, it's no wonder that commercial truck drivers are considered at high risk for sleep-related accidents. At least 15 percent of all large truck accidents are believed to involve fatigue.

Holding Drivers Accountable

If drowsy driving is such a huge problem, why aren't safety officials doing more to stop it? Part of the reason is that fatigue or sleepiness can be difficult to prove. Blood, urine or breath tests can show a driver's level of intoxication. Skid marks point to speeding. Fatigue, however, may not have this type of physical evidence.

In some states, however, prosecutors are beginning to charge people with crimes stemming from drowsy driving crashes. In addition, experienced motor vehicle accident attorneys understand how to investigate accidents to find evidence of fatigue or sleepiness. Truck drivers, for example, are subject to specific limits on the number of hours they work and must log their hours on the road. Information from these and other sources can show whether a truck company negligently allowed a fatigued truck driver on the road.