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How Tired is Too Tired to Drive?


We’ve written before about the dangers of driving while fatigued, or “drowsy driving” studies over the past several years have shown that driving while fatigued can be as dangerous as driving under the influence. Research from the AAA foundation for Traffic Safety (AAA) found that 16 to 21% of all fatal motor vehicle crashes likely involved fatigued driving.

Many people don’t realize that driving while fatigued is negligent, and can mean they are liable for any accident caused in whole or part because of their condition. Even more alarmingly, a more recent AAA report revealed that most drivers don’t even know when they are too tired to drive.

Drowsy Driving Research

Researchers simulated a 150 mile nighttime drive. To make conditions realistic, participants were incentivized to make the trip as quickly as possible, but also to avoid crashing. At 20 mile intervals, they had the option to stop at a simulated rest area. They could leave the simulator, stretch their legs, eat, drink a caffeinated beverage, or even rest.

Researchers collected both subjective and objective data. They surveyed drivers about how drowsy they felt during the simulated trip, and they also measured the percentage of time their eyes were closed. As you might expect, levels of drowsiness increased as the simulated trip progressed. Most participants knew that they were feeling somewhat sleepy. But researchers identified two significant issues:

  • One in four drivers who were drowsy enough to close their eyes for 15 seconds or longer within one minute rated their drowsiness as low, meaning that a significant percentage of drivers do not recognize when they are dangerously sleepy on the road
  • Even when drivers recognized that they were seriously drowsy, they declined most opportunities to take breaks that might have refreshed them

In short, the study suggests that many drivers do not recognize that they are too sleepy to safely be on the road. Even when they do start to recognize that sleepiness, many are disinclined to take the action needed to perk themselves up or get off the road until they are safe to travel again.

Avoiding the Risks of Fatigued Driving

The second problem is the easiest for drivers to solve. They simply need to make better decisions about stopping to move around, rest, or perk themselves up with a cup of coffee when they are feeling too drowsy to drive safely. This may include building a little bit of extra time into long and or late night drives to make sure that they aren’t feeling too time pressured to stop when necessary.

The first issue is a little tougher to tackle, since a driver who is not aware that they are dangerously fatigued can’t make the decision to act on that. So, AAA offers some advice about recognizing when you are too fatigued to be safe on the road and how to avoid getting to that point.

The key signs they say you should look out for on the road are:

  • Having difficulty keeping your eyes open
  • Drifting out of your lane
  • Not remembering the last few miles of driving

Of course, every person is different, and it is important to pay attention to and become familiar with your own risk signals when driving.

The following precautions can help you avoid becoming dangerously sleepy on the road, and can create some checkpoints so that you aren’t unwittingly driving while fatigued.

  • Plan to stop every 100 miles or approximately two hours, whether you feel like you need to or not
  • When possible, travel with a passenger who stays alert and interacts with you and/or switches off driving
  • Avoid driving while on medications that can make you sleepy or impair your response time
  • Ensure that you have slept at least seven hours before heading off on a long drive
  • When necessary, consider stopping for a quick nap – – even 20 to 30 minutes can refresh you enough to help you stay alert on the road

It’s understandable for people who are fatigued on the road to be eager to reach their destination and be able to rest for longer than a quick nap or a walk around the rest area. But, the consequences of driving while sleepy can be much more serious than the inconvenience of taking a few short breaks or other precautions.

Is Drowsy Driving Illegal?

Most states, including Massachusetts, do not currently have laws making it explicitly illegal to drive while fatigued. However, drivers are expected to exercise reasonable care for the safety of others on the road and other people’s property while driving. A person who is driving while too fatigued to do so safely will typically be liable for any accident caused by their drifting off or impaired responses on the road.

If you have been injured by a fatigued driver, you may be entitled to compensation. To learn more about your rights and the types of damages you may be entitled to, you should speak with an experienced Massachusetts car accident attorney as soon as possible. You can schedule a free consultation with attorney Kevin P. Broderick right now by calling 978-459-3085 or filling out the contact form on this page.


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