When drivers fall asleep at the wheel or even nod off momentarily, serious injuries and death may result. It is not uncommon for drivers on long trips to feel fatigue and sleepiness from driving many hours or taking a late start. If an accident happened at night, early in the morning, or the driver is not from the area, it is more likely that sleep deprivation played a part in the accident.
It may be difficult to prove the sleep deprivation causation if the driver is injured after the accident and is disoriented for that reason. Accident reconstruction specialists and a lawyer who knows exactly what questions to ask the defendant are critical to establishing the negligence and fault of the defendant. In the majority of states, driving while showing signs of fatigue and exhaustion may result in manslaughter charges if someone is killed by the negligence.
Drivers do not instantly become dangerous on the roads. It is universal for all humans to experience many preliminary signs before drifting into that danger zone of unconsciousness behind the wheel. The later signs may include blinking your eyes longer because the relaxation is pleasing and difficult to resist. The eyelids feel heavy and may be harder to open. Many drivers may open a window and try to startle themselves awake with fresh cold air. This only works for a moment before the natural chemical processes of releasing melatonin and exhaustion kick back in.
Know When to Rest
Drivers always have the option to rest on the shoulder of the road or to find another place to park if the traffic is dangerous and the shoulder is narrow. There is sufficient advance warning to alert them that they are crossing into that threshold of delayed reaction times and falling asleep at the wheel. Being tired at the wheel is considerably more dangerous than driving while intoxicated on drugs or alcohol. Even worse, drivers may not realize how dangerous they are because they are alert for moments and feel like they are overcoming the sleepiness.
How it Happens
In the morning and night, all drivers are more susceptible to accidents. They may be in a dreamlike hypnagogic state where everything seems surreal and inconsequential. They may experience hallucinations that distract them as they float back off into dreamland after skipping the morning coffee. Car accidents in the morning are more often narrowly averted because the traffic is typically slower in general. Everyone is trying to wake up and straighten out their thinking. At night, many drivers are in the zone and driving around at maximum speeds with a higher level of consciousness and alertness.
Drivers on Medication
When drivers take medications that have a sedating effect, this is bound to play a heavy role in your claims. Many prescription drugs, over the counter cold medicines, and allergy medications induce drowsiness at varying levels. These are the type of questions that a talented accident attorney will probe into when examining the defendant’s testimony. If you fall asleep while driving after letting yourself fall into the habit of tired driving, you can lose your life or become seriously injured even when other vehicles aren’t involved.
Many drivers have lost their lives to something as innocuous as a tree because they thought that their big pickup truck was some invincible fortress that would save them in the event of an accident. It does not matter how sturdy your vehicle might be. When an accident occurs, the sudden reaction is explosive. People have died from blunt force trauma even from the airbag itself. The effect of tired driving has a tendency to delude the drivers. They may not consider the real-world consequences because the hypnagogue state produces a surreal video-game-like experience.
Burning the Midnight Oil
People who work overtime or night-shift are most susceptible because the melatonin levels increase at night even if they had adequate sleep. If you take too many melatonin supplements, by comparison, you may feel so exhausted that eating a bowl of cereal is impossible. It may be difficult to make it around the hall without having to pass out on the floor for a nap. Melatonin is a powerful chemical produced by the human body that makes the limbs heavy and forces us into an apathetic state of unconsciousness.
Hit by a Driver Who Fell Asleep at the Wheel?
When it comes to car accidents where the drivers fall asleep while driving, only a specialist can plead and prove your case. In many cases, the evidence is circumstantial and presents the clearest explanation for the driver’s negligence when nothing else fits. It may be unreasonable to draw the inference if the car accident occurs at mid-day and the driver does not suffer from any ailments. When all the underlying factors are there and the driver did not test positive for drugs and alcohol by police, the defendant will likely be forced to settle.
Juries tend to show sympathy for victims of accidents unless it can be demonstrated that they were acting negligently themselves. Serious tired driving accidents often have what are called gross deviations of care. When you compare the reactions of an ordinary person to the situation presented, you see that only a driver who was sleeping at the wheel would have suddenly weaved into the wrong lane.
It is very easy to get in the habit of driving in dream mode. Like the Wizard of Oz movie, all you really need to do is follow that yellow brick road; or in this case, the yellow line. You can see that yellow line even with your eyes half closed. The roads are engineered to be relatively smooth and predictable. If you maintain adequate driving distances, it may seem nearly impossible to suffer an accident.
Automatic vehicles require very little skill to operate and can be easy to drive even when half asleep for many hours. You may go for weeks driving while half asleep until those defensive driving situations occur that require alertness. A vehicle may overtake you in the passing lane and reduce the following distances. An animal may cross the road. A wet road or poor vehicle maintenance may increase stopping times.
There are cases where exhaustion is only one of many proximate causes in a car accident. Drivers may also be found negligent for failing to maintain their vehicles. If the brakes are worn and didn’t work properly, this may compound the source of delayed reaction. A proximate cause is a factor that played a critical role in the injury. You may have a sole proximate cause or many proximate causes. In most cases, the defendants may try to argue comparative negligence even if they were clearly negligent themselves. If you were speeding or driving unsafely, their gross deviations from the standard of motor vehicle operation care (such as drifting into the wrong lane) may be mitigated.
Don’t let these complex technicalities of the law cheat you out of your right to full compensation. You may be compensated for lost wages, medical bills, pain and suffering, diminished quality of life, wrongful death of a loved one, loss of consortium with a deceased family member, and property damage. These cases always require leading expert testimony to reconstruct the accident and medical experts to calculate the extent of injuries. There is no other method of presenting a case of sufficient magnitude to force a settlement or a large jury verdict.
Our law firm has the experience with drivers who fall asleep while driving. These car accidents are some of the most serious on the road. Whenever you are involved in an accident, it is paramount that you immediately contact our law firm. Never discuss the claims with an insurance adjuster. Their job is to mitigate or eliminate any compensation. Anything you say may be twisted around and framed in a negative light. Armed with this knowledge concerning sleepy driver accidents, you will be able to help us prepare a rock-solid case for maximum compensation.