Most people know that falling asleep behind the wheel can pose substantial challenges, including a severe car accident risk. However, many people may not think about the potential challenges of driving while fatigued and what they may mean for your odds of getting into a wreck. After a fatigued driving accident, a car accident lawyer can help you learn more about your right to compensation and provide you with valuable support that can help guide you through the claim process.
How Does Fatigue Change a Driver's Abilities?
Driving while fatigued can create some of the same challenges a driver might face while drunk. Drowsy driving can make it very difficult for the driver to keep full attention on the road, where it belongs. After just 20 hours without sleep, a driver may experience the same symptoms as a driver with a BAC of 0.08 percent, the legal limit across every state in the United States.
Fatigue may dull reflexes.
A driver needs quick reflexes to deal with the many challenges that might occur on the road. Circumstances can change instantly: a driver slams on the brakes approaching a red light, a child runs out on the road, or a vehicle comes through a red light or stop sign instead of stopping appropriately. The driver needs to react fast to avoid a collision. Unfortunately, fatigue can dull those reflexes and prevent the driver from responding appropriately to those dangers.
Fatigued drivers may have visual problems that may make it more difficult to note hazards around them on the road.
Fatigued drivers may suffer from tunnel vision or blurred vision. Many drivers find that their visual field narrows substantially while tired, and that field may continue to narrow as higher levels of exhaustion set in. Often, tired drivers will lose track of things happening around them on the road. Sometimes, that means losing track of smaller vehicles, like motorcycles or bicycles. Other times, it may mean that the driver fails to notice the presence of even larger vehicles.
Decreased vision can make it very difficult for a driver to keep track of everything around them, including the progression of other vehicles. Unfortunately, that decreased vision can cause the vehicle to slam or drift into another without the fatigued driver noticing.
A driver suffering from fatigue may have more difficulty controlling the vehicle.
Drivers who feel high levels of fatigue may have difficulty keeping their vehicles under control. The vehicle may drift into traffic unexpectedly or swerve off the road before the driver can draw the vehicle back under control.
The driver may also have trouble remembering how to control the vehicle or responding appropriately to situations on the road, whether braking while approaching a light or navigating a difficult turn. Fatigue can decrease overall cognitive function, making it very difficult for a tired driver to stay safe on the road.
Fatigued drivers may suffer from higher rates of distraction.
Fatigued drivers often try various strategies to keep their eyes open and attention on the road. Sometimes, those strategies can be incredibly beneficial for staying awake, but they may prevent the driver from focusing on the road. Distracted driving contributes to a high percentage of accidents each year. A distracted driver may not notice changes around them on the road. Since fatigue may already interfere with cognitive performance and observational skills, dealing with additional distractions may further raise the dangers a fatigued driver poses.
In some cases, fatigued drivers may fall asleep behind the wheel.
Some fatigued drivers may fall into microsleeps, during which they fall asleep for a matter of seconds. During those seconds, the vehicle has no one to control it, and the driver may have no idea what takes place around the vehicle. Other drivers may fall asleep altogether. When a driver falls asleep, the vehicle may have nothing to stop it until it collides with an obstacle. Sleeping drivers may not recognize the potential hazards until a serious accident occurs.
Fatigued drivers may suffer from poor decision-making skills.
While fatigued, drivers may have a hard time making good decisions. In some cases, that might explain why fatigued drivers chose to get behind the wheel in the first place. They might feel they have few options for avoiding driving or getting the rest they need before getting behind the wheel.
In addition, fatigued drivers may make poor overall decisions while behind the wheel. They might, for example, be more likely to speed, drive aggressively, or ignore traffic signals as they try to get to their destination and off the road sooner.
Sometimes, fatigued drivers may have difficulty remembering to follow the rules of the road or determining who has the right of way, which might cause them to make poor overall decisions.
Fatigued drivers might forget some of their time on the road.
In general, forgetting the miles you have driven may not seem like a potent problem. However, you might zone out during those miles, paying little to no attention to what takes place around you. In addition, a fatigued driver might fail to remember whether they have completed specific tasks or might even lose track of their location on a long trip. The longer that fatigue and road haze lasts, the greater the odds that the driver will end up causing a severe accident.
Avoiding Fatigued Driving
If you suffer from serious fatigue, you can take several steps to help avoid fatigued driving. Simply consuming caffeine might seem like a good idea, but it may not offer the energy burst you need to help you stay alert and aware on the road.
Try not to get behind the wheel while tired or short on sleep.
Even if it feels unavoidable, you may have several options to help you avoid getting behind the wheel while suffering from a heavy degree of fatigue. You may have the option to:
- Get some rest before you get behind the wheel
- Call for an Uber or Lyft
- Talk to a friend, family member, or coworker and get a ride
- Reschedule your trip until you have had a reasonable amount of sleep
Driving while fatigued may present several potential dangers. If possible, avoiding driving can help keep you and others on the road with you safer.
Pull off the road and take a short nap, if needed.
Napping for around 20 minutes can help you feel less fatigued, more alert, and better prepared to take on the challenges you might face while driving. If you feel increasingly tired, know you have spent too many hours on the road or start to drift off, plan to pull off the road and take a nap in a safe location. After 15 to 30 minutes, you may feel better prepared to return safely to the road.
Get out of the car and walk around.
Sometimes, drowsiness can occur because you have spent too many hours behind the wheel. If you notice yourself starting to succumb to road haze, you may need to find a rest stop or gas station where you can walk around and wake up. You may choose to get a snack or drink to help you stay awake.
Remember, however, that heavy amounts of caffeine may not offer additional wakefulness but may make it more difficult to fall asleep when you have time to rest. Too much caffeine can also create a damaging cycle that causes you to feel perpetually tired because you do not get enough sleep.
Try to have someone in the car with you for long trips.
Having someone in the car with you can help you stay awake. Never allow your passenger to distract you from the road. However, having a passenger to talk to can make it easier to stay awake, keep your attention on everything happening around you, and avoid the risk of an accident. A passenger may also help determine when you have become too tired to continue driving.
Plan your sleep schedule adequately, when possible.
When you scheduled a major road trip, you may want to get on the road as early as possible to have more time at your destination. However, poor sleep planning can cause you to suffer from higher rates of fatigue and may increase the odds that you will end up involved in an accident. Before a major road trip, try to ensure that you get adequate sleep not only the night before but in the nights leading up to the road trip.
You may also need to adjust your sleep schedule to decrease the odds that you will drive while fatigued daily. Some people, especially those who have to wake early for work, may stay up too late, feeling drowsy and out of sorts when they get behind the wheel. Unfortunately, those drivers may end up involved in a higher rate of accidents due to their fatigue.
Leave adequate time to reach your destination so you can take a break if necessary.
On long trips, in particular, scheduling in time for a break can make it much easier to pull off the road and take a walk break or a nap if you start to feel yourself getting drowsy. Many people have difficulty justifying a stop when they know they need to meet a tight deadline. However, failure to stop and rest when needed can increase the risk of a fatigued driving accident.
If you know you need to make a several-day trip, ensure you have a realistic idea of how many hours you can safely spend behind the wheel in a day. Some people may feel alert and awake for longer hours, while others may need to take more regular stops or even stop driving earlier for the day. When in doubt, plan to stop overnight before you reach your destination.
After a Fatigued Driving Accident: What To Do Next
Did you get into an accident with a fatigued driver? In many cases, you might not even know that the driver suffered from substantial fatigue during the accident. However, in some cases, you may have seen obvious signs: the driver weaving on the road, a driver next to you nodding off behind the wheel, or a driver who seemed to struggle to control the vehicle, for example. In other cases, the driver might confess to a heavy degree of fatigue or even to falling asleep behind the wheel.
As with any accident, you should report a fatigued driving accident immediately. If you suffered only a minor fender bender, you might choose to report the accident later so that you can both go home. However, you should report the accident to the police within ten days. If you suffered any injury, you should have reported the accident and sought medical attention immediately.
Next, follow the right steps to get compensation and protect your case.
- Keep a record of your medical bills and expenses.
- Follow any instructions issued by your medical provider, including adhering to any restrictions or going through any necessary pieces of your treatment plan.
- Talk to a lawyer to determine whether you may deserve compensation for your injuries. A lawyer can also help you determine when and how to report the accident to your insurance company.
After a fatigued driving accident, a lawyer can help you learn more about your right to compensation and provide you with valuable support that can help guide you through the claim process. Contact a car accident attorney as soon after your accident as possible to learn more about your rights and your next steps.